The chairman of Baltimore's liquor board vowed this week to crack down on Charles Street establishments where officials have found repeated instances of illegal drinking and locking of exit doors.
Leonard R. Skolnik, the chairman, was responding to an article Aug. 3 in The Sun describing the impact of Club Choices and Trip's Place on the area. Neighbors say a crowd that lingers outside until dawn on the weekend brings noise, traffic, garbage and crime and undermines redevelopment goals in the city's fledgling arts and entertainment district.
Choices, at 1815-1817 N. Charles St., is owned by Anthony D. Triplin and is one of three clubs in the city licensed to stay open all night. Although it cannot sell liquor or allow patrons to bring their own, it is connected by a door to a Triplin-owned bar, Trip's Place, that serves drinks until closing at 2 a.m. Patrons are required to pay for admission to Choices to enter Trip's.
The liquor board took no action against Triplin after an August 1998 hearing about alcohol being brought from the bar to the club, but Skolnik said Triplin was instructed at the time to stop the practice.
"No one ever brought it back to the board saying, 'Hey, the guy is thumbing his nose at you' until now," Skolnik said.
Liquor board inspectors who went to the club on the same weekend as the Sun story was published found more violations. "They saw what's been going on for years, which aggravates ... me, people leaving Trip's with open containers," Skolnik said. "That we absolutely are going to do something about."
He said another hearing will be scheduled soon, but did not know an exact date.
Skolnik also said he would investigate reports that fire inspectors found doors at Trip's and Choices locked, bolted or padlocked for two consecutive weeks in May, and vowed to address that issue at the hearing as well.
"He belongs to us," Skolnik said of Triplin. "He will be charged with failure to cooperate."
The newspaper also reported that the liquor board's executive secretary, Nathan C. Irby Jr., and Triplin are longtime friends. After the story was published, the liquor board asked its inspectors about whether they had ever had direction to give Triplin favored treatment, Skolnik said, and "the answer was an emphatic no."
Nevertheless, he said, "Obviously, if Irby had a relationship with Triplin and it was personal and they talked and did something, there's no way we'd ever know that."
Irby said this week that because he is an administrator and - unlike Skolnik - not one of the board's panel of commissioners, he can't vote on decisions. "I try to stay away [on matters involving Triplin] simply because I've known him so long and I know what can be perceived," Irby said.
Triplin could not be reached for comment the past two days, despite efforts to contact him directly and through his attorney, John Austin.
In a prior interview, Triplin said it was nearly impossible to prevent Trip's patrons from bringing alcohol into Choices because the Fire Department had ordered him to keep open a door in the wall that separates them.
In response to fire inspectors' reports May 2 and 9, Triplin has said most doors were unlocked from the inside. He called a fire inspector's decision to shut down the club and the bar for the night May 9 outrageous and unwarranted.
Triplin has also denied getting any preferred treatment, saying, rather, that authorities have unnecessarily targeted him.