The dart teams walked out on David D. Morgan Sr. late last week. Three of his pool squads had already left, packing their cue sticks when they learned the Hampden Republican Club could no longer sell its $1.50 beers. For the dart-tossing, pool-shooting crowd, that was simply an unacceptable change after decades of being able to buy drinks there.
"For 19 1/2 years the Democratic Club served alcohol," said Morgan, 61, referring to a former life of the establishment he now runs.
Pacing in his empty club in an Orioles cap and T-shirt, Morgan added, "I drank with Schaefer at this very bar while he was running for mayor."
That would be Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, a Democrat, whose field enforcement agents raided the Republican club, which for years had been home to the prominent Hampden Democratic Club. As a result of the raid, Morgan was arrested and charged with serving alcohol without a license. He faces the possibility of up to four years in jail and more than $2,000 in fines.
The bust, the second in two years, came after neighbors complained that the club at 3535 Chestnut Ave. was operating without a license, said John R. Horney, chief inspector for the comptroller's field enforcement division, which polices unlicensed alcohol sales. He said that the raid was not politically motivated and that he considered Morgan's unlicensed bar to be a Republican club in name only.
Morgan said he can't get a license to sell liquor because of the club's proximity to St. Luke's Lutheran Church.
In the end, it didn't matter that the club had been around one year or 30 and had been serving alcohol without a license during much of that time. On Aug. 29, agents seized 529 containers of beer, 70 bottles of liquor and 12 bottles of wine and hauled Morgan to Central Booking and Intake Center.
Now, talk in Hampden is about whether the club, which was a key stop on the local political circuit in the 1970s and '80s, will soon close for good. Morgan, part of a Hampden family so large some call their collection of residences "Morgantown," acknowledges that he violated the law but laments the club's possible demise.
Others say good riddance. Behind the bright green facade and Ehrlich For Governor sign is simply an illegal bar and a neighborhood nuisance, they say.
"It's a bunch of drinking and gambling going on in there," said Wayne R. Gioioso, who owns the property next door to the club. He has battled with Morgan over a variety of zoning issues. "It's basically a sham compared to when Bob Burns ran it."
Bob T. Burns, 81, was president of the Hampden Democratic Club for almost 18 years, when the 300 members welcomed politicians to crab feasts and candidate forums.
"I don't care who was running [for office], sooner or later they'd come there," Burns said from his home in Hampden last week. "It was a good club, hon, it really was."
On Election Day, dozens of volunteers walked Hampden's streets and encouraged residents to vote for those candidates who were lucky enough to win the club's nomination.
"That was the circuit when I was first getting into politics," said Mary Pat Clarke, former Baltimore City Council president. "It was fun. And they had good hot dogs."
Apparently, they also had beer. In a 1991 Sun article, former Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns told a reporter about going to the Democratic club in Hampden during his race for City Council in the early 1970s.
"They applauded me, and we all drank some beers," said Burns. "And then we drank some more beers. So they love me in Hampden. Only thing is, those people drink too damn much beer for me."
Samuel T. Daniels Jr., chief inspector for the city liquor board, said those in liquor law enforcement knew that the politically prominent club was unlicensed.
"It was easier to do winks and nods 15 years ago," he said.
Horney, the state inspector, said his agents primarily respond to complaints in pursuing establishments that sell liquor without a license, and that one such complaint against the Hampden club prompted the recent raid.
Morgan bought the building at auction in 1995 and was prompted to start a Republican Club by Ellen R. Sauerbrey's gubernatorial campaign. Though the Hampden Republican Club is not a registered nonprofit group, Morgan insisted he made no money from the establishment. And as examples of his civic contributions, Morgan reeled off a list of good works: He has donated candy to schools on Halloween, supported the mayor's Christmas parade and played host to a Christmas party for neighborhood children.
Gioioso, the club's unhappy neighbor, has another list of Morgan's community contributions that are decidedly less flattering: drunken men urinating in his tenants' parking lot, bottles left on the lawn and bad odors coming from the club's air conditioning units.
Morgan contends that, despite not having a liquor license, he ran the cleanest bar in Hampden.
"There's never been a police here in eight years," he said. "I'm like a general. I run a tight ship. I don't let nobody get out of hand."
He paused, looking over the club's pool trophies.
"I know it's against the law to sell alcohol," he said. "But I also know it's a good place - and that for more than 25 years, the same thing's been happening."