The China Room was to resume its early morning hours yesterday, after Baltimore's liquor board determined the downtown restaurant-nightclub did not violate a state law requiring liquor licensees to serve food if they stay open past 2 a.m.
In a ruling after a two-hour hearing, the Board of Liquor License Commissioners rescinded its Aug. 31 letter ordering a 2 a.m. closing for the China Room, which had been granted a city permit in May to operate until 4 a.m. weekends to serve food and play recorded music in an experiment to add zest to the city's nightlife.
The board sent its letter after a liquor inspector reported that a post-2 a.m. visit to the China Room, in Uncle Lee's Szechuan Restaurant at South and East Lombard streets, found patrons drinking and dancing to loud music but no evidence that food was being prepared.
The China Room closed at 2 a.m. last weekend.
But at Thursday's hearing, several China Room employees and patrons testified that they had frequently eaten and prepared food after 2 a.m.
"As long as they're serving food, they can stay open," board Chairman Leonard R. Skolnik said after the board's decision.
John Giorgilli, China Room manager, said the restaurant-nightclub would be open both nights this weekend until 4 a.m.
The state legislature enacted the law as an "emergency measure" this past session after a Fells Point nightclub tried to stay open past 2 a.m., arguing that state liquor laws specified when liquor sales had to stop, not when bars had to close.
Liquor inspector Karen Talieferro testified Thursday that when she visited the China Room on Aug. 12 from 2:01 to 2:15, there was no evidence that the place was operating as a restaurant.
"The stoves were off and nothing was cooking," Talieferro said.
But China Room employees said that they could fire up the stoves quickly and that they cooked everything to order.
George Divel, a stockbroker from Towson, said he had ordered cheese rolls at the China Room after 2 a.m. "multiple times."
China Room attorneys Melvin J. Kodenski and Peter A. Prevas argued that the law was unconstitutional because it imposed improper restrictions on the use of property.
Their legal argument was not addressed.