The Harford County Liquor Control Board found the liquor license holders for The Lodge Restaurant & Bar in Hickory not guilty Wednesday of five violations stemming from a March 16 incident when a DJ offered free drinks as prizes in a baby race involving two children of patrons.
Resident licensee Colin Snyder and managing member Brian Steele faced charges of providing free alcoholic beverages, using the beverages as contest prizes, failing to cooperate with a representative of the Liquor Control Board, substantially altering the licensed premises and failing to operate their establishment in a manner “that does not disturb the peace, health, safety and welfare of the community.”
The board voted 3-0 —commissioners Frederic Merchant and James Welch were absent Wednesday — in favor of finding the licensees not guilty of each charge following a show cause hearing. The hearing happened during a regular meeting of the liquor board, the first meeting in which Scott Baker participated as the LCB’s new general manager.
The board heard testimony from The Lodge license holders, managers on duty at the time and the DJ himself, Nick Nesbitt. They were represented by Bel Air attorney Albert J.A. “Jay” Young.
“I think what this is, is a crazy misunderstanding,” Young said as he delivered his closing remarks.
Inspector William Colburn IV visited the establishment the afternoon of March 16 for a “business check." The Lodge was among many bars and restaurants in Harford County hosting events during the week leading up to St. Patrick’s Day, and liquor inspectors had been checking in with the various establishments, according to Colburn’s report.
As he met with managers Bryan Gurosko and Scott Opdyke, Colburn spotted a tent erected on the restaurant’s rear patio. The tent covered a bar, DJ table, stage, lighting and propane-fueled heaters, according to his report, in which the inspector stated that putting up the tent “served to substantially modify the licensed premises.”
A woman holding a 6-month-old child asked Gurosko, during the inspector’s visit, if she could bring her infant onto the patio, where Colburn stated there was “loud music, alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking." Gurosko told the patron she could bring her child to the patio but did not recommend doing so, according to the inspector’s report.
A second woman came out of the restaurant, carrying a child in a handheld seat and headed into the tent around the same time. That brought the number of children in the tent to two, as another adult was already in there with a small child, according to the report.
The DJ then began calling for more adults with children younger than 1 year old and asked for four Irish car bomb drinks to be brought to his table. No other parents responded, and the DJ changed his order to two drinks as he began setting up the baby races with the mothers holding their children at one end of the tent and their male partners on the other end. The alcoholic drinks were placed in front of the men and the babies encouraged to crawl toward the men, according to the inspector’s report.
Colburn, once he saw the drinks placed on the floor, told Gurosko that they could not be consumed. The manager went to the DJ, spoke with him, and then went back to the inspector and said the DJ had offered to pay for the drinks.
Colburn reiterated that the drinks could not be consumed, and Gurosko went back to the DJ, who ended the contest. The two men involved in the contest still picked up the drinks and consumed them, according to the inspector’s report.
Gurosko and Opdyke testified during Wednesday’s hearing, along with licensee Snyder and DJ Nesbitt. They faced questions from their attorney, Young, as well as Amy Finneran, liquor board counsel.
Gurosko recalled that he tried to discourage the one woman from bringing her infant into the patio where adult patrons were smoking — he stressed no smoking was allowed in the tent itself because of the propane heaters.
The manager confirmed he heard Nesbitt order the drinks while he was speaking with Colburn. He said Nesbitt offered to put the drinks on his tab, and confirmed that the DJ paid for them.
Gurosko said, in the initial confusion, the DJ and managers were able to secure one drink but the second was consumed by the patron.
Snyder said he overheard the announcement about the baby race contest, heard the inspector say free drinks cannot be offered as prizes and that he saw Gurosko rush to the tent to “call off” the contest.
Nesbitt said he paid for the two drinks. He said he “immediately stopped; I pulled the drink from one of the guys” when Gurosko told him he could not do the contest. He said the other patron, who was “a couple feet away,” drank his beverage, though.
“I think the testimony is clear, that that’s not the case — they were paid for and there is no evidence to the contrary,” Young said, challenging the charge of a free drink offer.
He added that the managers stopped the contest “immediately” once they found out what the DJ, who is not an employee of The Lodge, was doing, and they tried to take the drinks away.
“I don’t think you could say these guys were uncooperative in any way,” Young said, indicating the managers.
He also stressed that he thinks the tent, which was a temporary structure erected within the fenced area of The Lodge’s premises, could not be considered an alteration of the licensed premises.
Finally, Young noted that, based on the testimony given Wednesday, “there is absolutely no evidence of” the community being disturbed during the March 16 incident.
“Not one of those five [charges] stick, in my opinion,” he told board members. The three members present voted unanimously to find the licensees not guilty on all charges.
“I think the decision was the correct one, and it reflects a very good understanding by the board of the challenges of operating a business like that,” Young said Thursday.
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He called the board’s decision “a pro-business decision, which is comforting not only to me who practices in the area, but to all licensees.”