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Harford bars, restaurants cancel drag shows to avoid risk of losing liquor licenses

Harford bars, restaurants cancel drag shows to avoid risk of losing liquor licenses
Sorority Diamond performs during the Broadway Babes Drag brunch at Trinacria Ristorante & Bar in Mount Vernon in July 2018. A number of Harford County bars and restaurants say they have had to cancel scheduled drag shows or risk losing their liquor licenses. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun file)

A number of Harford County bars and restaurants say they have had to cancel scheduled drag shows or risk losing their liquor licenses.

Officials from the Harford County Liquor Control Board said they did not tell licensees they had to cancel their events, board administrator Pilar Gracia said. Staff simply reminded licensees of the liquor board rules regarding nudity and sexual displays and that if they were in violation, their liquor license would be revoked.

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“At a drag show, or any other live entertainment event, simulated sex acts and/or other behavior or attire that are prohibited by [board rules] could occur,” Gracia said.

She cited Board Rule 4:23 which outlines attire, conduct and entertainment that is prohibited in an establishment that serves alcohol. The rule prohibits wearing clothing or costumes that expose specific body parts, caressing or fondling certain body parts or simulating any number of sex acts.

“I think it’s crazy. There’s no stripping, no nudity, it’s just boys dressed up as women. They wear gowns and they dance around,” Guy Macina, a server for three years at Alchemy Elements in Bel Air, said. “I don’t understand why they canceled or what the reasoning is.”

Alchemy’s event, that had been scheduled for June 1, was going to feature six drag queens who are friends of Macina, the organizer.

Main Street Tower had a show scheduled April 27 but canceled it after meeting with the administrator and inspector from the liquor board.

“I had to cancel, otherwise I could lose my liquor license. My liquor license is more worth it,” Renato Buontempo, owner of the restaurant, said. “They say to me, ‘It’s up to you,’ then they say look at this [board rule] of things I’m not allowed to do. They left me no other choice.”

The issue was first brought to the board’s attention in January, when the Jarrettsville VFW planned to host Bingo with the Boyz, which involves adult-themed games, bingo, movie events and trivia nights, according to its Facebook page.

Since then, liquor board staff members have met with as many as five licensees who had been planning to host drag events at their businesses.

It was an effort to be business friendly, Gracia said.

“Each [licensee] has been very receptive of the conversation, very appreciative of the conversation, and has made the determination they would cancel the event,” she said.

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Rather than meet with the licensees, the board could have let the events go on as advertised, send someone to the event or wait to see it on social media and then bring in the licensee to appear before the board to have the license revoked, Gracia said.

“If they don’t violate these things [in the board rules], the board doesn’t need to be involved,” board chairman Sheryl Davis Kohl said. “We’re not telling them they can’t do anything, we’re making them aware of what the law says.”

Specific activities

According to the board rule, an individual may not serve alcohol while being unclothed or in “attire, costume or clothing so as to expose to view any portion of the female breast” below the top of the areola or any portion of a person’s lower private areas.

No one may “caress or fondle” certain body parts, including breasts and buttocks or use a device or covering that simulates certain body parts.

Entertainment that is prohibited includes performing an act of or that simulates, sexual intercourse or any number of other acts, caressing or fondling certain parts of the body, displaying certain parts of the body or allowing an entertainer “whose breasts or buttocks are exposed to perform closer than 6 feet from the nearest patron.”

With few exceptions, according to the board rule, “the board shall revoke a license if, after hearing before the board, an activity listed in this section is found to have occurred on the license premises.”

One show goes on

At least one drag event is still going on as scheduled this weekend.

MacGregor’s in Havre de Grace is hosting Humidity Rising drag brunch Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Sea Plane Base of La Banque de Fleuve.

MacGregor’s has two licenses it uses for catering, one in Harford County and one statewide license issued by the state, Gracia said.

For the drag brunch, it is using its statewide license which allows such activities and supersedes the Harford board’s rules, she said.

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