A dangerous situation [Editorial]

The Aegis

The issues that led to the Harford County Liquor Control Board’s decision last week to fine the licensees of 510 Johnnys in Bel Air $8,000 and mete out a four-day license suspension, albeit effective after New Year’s weekend, are not new to Bel Air.

A rowdy crowd, disorderly patrons, underage drinking, fights and intoxicated drivers leaving the premises were all detailed by Bel Air Police Department officers during a show cause hearing before the liquor board on Dec. 22.

“All of law enforcement in Harford County is aware of 510 Johnnys on Thursday nights,” Bel Air Police Cpl. Donald Ravadge said during the hearing, laying the blame on a “college night” promotion that 510 Johnnys management and lawyer have since insisted will be no more.

We’re inclined to take these folks at their word that they will clean up their act. The publicity arising out of last week’s liquor board hearing, fines and suspension probably isn’t good for the business, but then again, you never know. Sometimes bad and rowdy can be good for the nightclub business.

As noted earlier, this isn’t the first time a popular Bel Air bar/restaurant/night club has run afoul of the liquor board for bad behavior of its patrons and its management’s inability to control them. The majority of those businesses who were cited in the past cleaned up their act and moved on; some didn’t and aren’t around any more. Names aren’t necessary at this point.

The liquor board determined 510 Johnnys violated four regulations, including failing to operate in a manner to “avoid disturbing the peace, safety, health, quiet and general welfare of the community,” failing to comply with standards for checking patrons’ identification, failing to prevent the sale of alcohol to underage patrons and selling alcohol to people “visibly” intoxicated, according to board documents.

Frankly, we’re a little surprised the board cut 510 Johnnys a break and let the suspension wait until after the busy New Year’s weekend. Why? These are not only egregious violations but, in the case of the fourth, members of the general community were put in grave danger by having intoxicated people leave the establishment and drive away. Harford County hasn’t been immune to situations in the past where a licensed beverage business allowed someone to drive away drunk who later killed people.

We understand the current board has a pro-business policy, but it should have made the four-day suspension take effect on Dec. 30 and put the onus on the licensee to go to court and try to block it.

This was not the first time 510 Johnnys has been before the liquor board. Just this past September, the business was fined $2,000 by the liquor board for flunking a May 2017 compliance test when a server sold an underage police cadet a bottle of beer and did not card the cadet.

In June 2015, liquor board inspectors cited 510 Johnnys management for failing to post a capacity placard in accordance with fire regulations. This incident, for which the liquor board itself took no punitive action, stemmed from the business’s owners deciding to provide live music on some nights, rather than to strictly operate as a sit-down restaurant and carryout, according to accounts of the incident in The Aegis and of www.theaegis.com. This had come after liquor board members learned after-the-fact that the management was installing a stage for the live music act. (Board regulations require that licensees give prior notice and receive approval before making any alterations to their premises.)

Open less that three years, 510 Johnnys is showing an uncomfortable pattern. Let’s hope its ownership and management has been chastened by recent events and will in fact put an end to situations that led to last week’s actions by the liquor board.

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