The recently appointed Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners voted not to renew the liquor license of The Drinkery, a mainstay of the Mount Vernon neighborhood since 1972, at a hearing on May 19. The vote was 2-1.
The establishment, on the corner of Park Avenue and Read Streets billed itself as a gay bar and a dive bar.
After listening to nearly three hours of testimony, Commissioners Dana Peterson Moore and Albert J. Matricciani ruled in favor of the protesters; Aaron Greenfield voted against.
About 15 people who backed the effort to prevent the license renewal and two dozen in support of The Drinkery attended the hearing at City Hall. Among those present who supported the protesters was Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello who had filed written testimony opposing the bar’s license renewal. City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young also submitted a letter supporting the protesters. Jason Curtis, the former president of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association, was among those who testified against The Drinkery.
According to charges on the petition with 35 validated signatures: “Patrons are often disorderly and disruptive as they leave the premises; patrons regularly loiter and litter on the sidewalks surrounding the premises; patrons engage in violent altercations inside the establishment that spill out into the surrounding neighborhood; drug activity occurs both in and on the periphery of the establishment; and patrons discard trash throughout the community.”
Melvin J. Kodenski, who represented The Drinkery at the hearing, moved to dismiss the case based on a lack of specificity to these charges but was overruled by the chair, Matricciani.
Mark Henderson, who identified himself as gay man who lives near the establishment on Read Street, said that “management let the place go and that [management] doesn’t care about the noise and violence.” Henderson specified loitering and bringing drinks outside and said he contacted the owner, Frederick Allen to help with the problems to no avail.
Michael Pugh, who is also gay and lives on the same street as The Drinkery, testified that prostitutes, drug dealers and johns hang outside the bar during the day but it becomes a “pirates’ cove” of intense activity at night. He added there was a need to “clean up blood, condoms, and vomit” on a daily basis. Pugh said there was “horrendous noise” at closing and people come out of the bar with glasses and bottles.
Two Baltimore City Police officers testified that they had responded to a number of complaints of disorderly conduct and assaults but admitted under cross examination by Kodenski that no arrests had ever been made inside the bar based on any complaints. They produced City Watch photos of a knife fight in the street outside the bar but did not establish that the individuals involved were connected to The Drinkery.
On behalf of The Drinkery, Mark S. Fosler, chief inspector for the Baltimore City Liquor Board, testified that only three 311 complaint calls were received by his office and those complaints were not substantiated.
Other patrons testified that any arguments inside the bar had been handled by staff and that the issue of people hanging outside the bar was due to the non-smoking policy inside bars. Anthony Pressley, a regular customer who is African-American, said he never saw a fight or broken bottles as alleged by the protesters. He suggested there is a racial motivation to the bar’s opposition.
Kodenski produced a petition of support for The Drinkery with more than 500 signatures and a host of awards and citations given to Allen, the owner, by elected officials over the years.
Allen, 87, disputed the accusations. He had been a resident in an apartment above the bar for more than 40 years. Allen said beverages are sold only in cans, not bottles. In his 44 years associated with The Drinkery, Allen testified that there had been no arrests inside the bar and that he cannot be held responsible for actions taking place on a city street.
Commissioner Moore, in voting for the protesters, stated, “What matters are the facts” and cited “contempt by the owner toward the community.”
Kodenski told the Blade he will appeal the decision.
“The Drinkery was a melting pot for everyone to meet and have a great time,” RJ Ladd, a frequent patron of the bar, told the Blade. “It will be dearly missed by us all as it was one of the last remaining gay bars in Baltimore.”