Club's neighbors looking for a little neighborliness

The Baltimore Sun

There have been meetings. Lots and lots of meetings. With the liquor board, City Council members, state delegates and the police.

So many meetings, in fact, that by the time the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association got around to its meeting this week, everyone was talked out. Enough about the Ultralounge bottle club in the basement of the Belvedere and the shooting two weeks ago on the street outside involving a patron who had been thrown out.

There is not much to debate. The condo association, the tenants, the community groups, the politicians and the police all want the bring-your-own-bottle-of-alcohol club shut down or at the very least reprimanded.

They're making headway. Baltimore Police Sgt. Charles B. Hess told residents who gathered at the Belvedere on Tuesday night that detectives have identified a suspect but have not made an arrest in the attack. Two people were wounded by bullets and a third was stabbed on East Chase Street.

We learned that condo officials have assembled the required 10 signatures to force a hearing by the liquor board, which for the first time has the power to regulate so-called bottle clubs, which in the past could operate with impunity. I'm sure there was a time and place where that was appropriate. But it seems odd to regulate the sale and dispensing of liquor and, at the same time, allow clubs to let patrons bring in their own booze - essentially creating a frat party with a cover charge and no adult supervision.

Hess warned that it might take a while to get action. He noted that the liquor board is still trying to figure out how to interpret the new law and what meetings and hearings are required. One could be scheduled as early as next month, though the sergeant said even that was still tentative.

The shootings forced the board to take on bottle clubs sooner than they had planned. The club had been forced to shut down once before because of problems with flouting liquor laws - operators were accused of selling beer, brandy and wine, which they cannot do without a license.

Owners reopened the club last year, and Hess said more complaints surfaced. "Disorderly people yelling and screaming," he said. "There have been continuous problems with the suite."

The manager and attorney for the lounge have defended the club, which shares the Belvedere with several restaurants and taverns, including the historic Owl Bar. They said security evicted a rowdy patron who then apparently continued his fight outside. In other words, the club managers say they did their job to maintain order.

That doesn't sit well with the vice president of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association. He deals with dozens of bar and restaurant owners, and readily acknowledges that these businesses are the very "lifeblood of the community" and "driving our economy," drawing visitors to museums, shops and night life.

He pointed to the Grand Central bar as one of the best - the owner just invested more than $10,000 to brick the sidewalk, which Warren called "a major investment in public space."

There's nothing wrong with a bar or a club, hip-hop or otherwise. The neighbors just want the owners and patrons to be a little ... well, neighborly.

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