Some Annapolis aldermen accused the city government last night of flip-flopping its rules on 2 a.m. closing times for downtown restaurants, most recently when it allowed the Harbour House to be sold with that privilege.
"It's become a political sport," said 8th Ward Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, who wants all downtown establishments to stay open until 2 a.m.
"I don't think the city can tolerate an uproar over this every time a restaurant changes hands," she said. "I think it is imperative for the integrity and credibility of this council to act in a way that is consistent."
Ms. Moyer and other aldermen argued that the city's Planning and Zoning Department reversed itself when it allowed the Harbour House to be sold with a 2 a.m. liquor license even though that restaurant rarely stayed open past midnight.
The city has denied late-night hours to other restaurants in the past by invoking the "use it or lose it rule," which states that any restaurant which does not stay open consistently until 2 a.m. loses its license.
The debate came as the City Council considered plans to renovate the Harbour House, a City Dock restaurant that is changing owners for the first time in 35 years. Raymond Lubrano, a local restaurateur, is buying Harbour House from George Phillips, who built it.
The council held a public hearing on a conditional use application to expand the Harbour House.
Although the council is expected to approve the application in September, aldermen argued last night that if the Harbour House receives a 2 a.m. closing time, other establishments should get the same privilege.
Ms. Moyer said the city invents a new rule on late-night closing almost every time the issue comes up.
She said there was no difference between the Harbour House application and a 1986 request by local restaurateur Jerry Hardesty for a 2 a.m. closing time for San Remo's. The council ordered Mr. Hardesty to close that Italian restaurant on Main Street at midnight, arguing that the last owner never used the 2 a.m. liquor license.
"You're either on the good list or the bad list in this city," said Mr. Hardesty, who sold San Remo's in the late 1980s but still owns the Middleton Tavern and O'Brien's Bar & Oyster Restaurant. "Obviously the city wanted to downgrade the liquor license in our case, and they did. It wasn't fair."
Last night's Harbour House debate provided ample opportunity for some aldermen to fight for late closing times for other downtown restaurants. A majority of the council members support a bill providing that two more downtown restaurants, Buddy's Crabs & Ribs and Maria's Sicilian Ristorante, are covered by the same law that protects Harbour House's 2 a.m. license.
An even more sweeping bill sponsored by Ms. Moyer would grant late-night hours to all establishments that are downtown.