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The Choptank keeps its liquor license despite complaint from Fells Point residents

Baltimore’s liquor board voted to renew the liquor license for The Choptank on Thursday over the objections from a group of Fells Point residents who lobbied to have the restaurant’s license revoked.

In a petition received by the liquor board last March, residents complained that the establishment, which opened in 2019 in the south shed of the former Broadway Market, broadcast loud music from numerous speakers in the neighborhood late at night. They said the noise came after owner Alex Smith had promised residents any sounds from the restaurant would be limited to “casual conversation” and “people pounding crabs with mallets.”

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In Thursday’s hearing longtime Fells Point resident Glenn Moomau, whose wife co-owns neighboring Penny Black, testified that music blasting from the restaurant’s sound system had disturbed him and neighbors late at night. Shakespeare Street resident Mara O’Connell said that music from the venue was so loud that, “you have to almost yell to talk to people around you.” She added, “it’s not the way Fells Point does things. We’re neighbors.”

According to the petition, residents called 311 to complain about the restaurant 28 times since October 2019. But none of those calls resulted in a violation.

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Under city rules, businesses must file to renew their liquor licenses each March. If or more residents object to the renewal, that automatically triggers a hearing before the commissioners.

Smith outright denied that noise had been a problem, saying it was a mostly family-oriented restaurant that attracted drinkers later at night. He said noise in the neighborhood resulted from surrounding bars and traffic including dirt bikes outside. “You can’t even hear the Choptank. It’s never been an issue. Ever.”

The Choptank is owned by Smith’s Atlas Restaurant Group, which also owns 13 other establishments in Baltimore, including another Fells Point bar, The Admiral’s Cup, which he purchased last year. Business partner Darin Mislan also spoke on the restaurant’s behalf.

Smith said 311 calls had sent inspectors to visit the restaurant as far back as 2018, the year before it opened.

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Attorney for the residents, Becky Witt, said that their goal was not necessarily to shut the business down, but for Smith to follow up with the promises he made at the restaurant’s initial hearing for a liquor license. “We want the licensee to do what he promised to do under oath.”

Smith’s attorney, Scott Marder, countered that neighboring bars and restaurants also featured bands and speakers. “They’re being inspected constantly … not one violation,” he said.

Calling the witnesses for both sides biased, board commissioner Albert Matricciani said that “there’s no specific evidence that Choptank is the primary source of noise” in the area, but encouraged Smith and the residents to try harder to come to a compromise.

After residents had asked the restaurant to remove all its outdoor speakers, The Choptank said they would do so only if every other establishment in the area did so as well. “That doesn’t strike me as any good faith negotiations,” Matricciani said.

The Choptank previously fell under fire for its dress code, which it revised after criticism that it discriminated against clothing often worn by Black patrons. Others have since come forth with allegations of racism at the restaurant group, in particular after a manager barred a Black child from entry at their Ouzo Bay restaurant in Harbor East.

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