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Quick and Dirty

Last Call

City Denies Liquor License to Brooklyn's Club Mate

By Chris Landers | Posted 4/30/2008

At the end of its April 24 hearing, which stretched almost to the early hours of Friday morning, the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners decided not to renew the liquor license of Brooklyn's Club Mate.

Chairman Stephan Fogleman said the board based its decision on police testimony that the club drew gang members to the area and drained police resources from the sector of the Southern District where it is located, as well as complaints from residents, dozens of whom came to the meeting to protest the club, which opened in 2004 at the former site of the rock club Thunder Dome.

Residents of the neighborhood have been trying for years to persuade the board to shut down the Hanover Street club, which they say brings noise, crowds, and crime. Last year an off-duty police officer working security at the club shot and killed a man whom police say had been ejected from the club, gone to his car, and returned with a gun. Baltimore County police linked Club Mate to a pair of gang-involved murders in Arbutus in 2006, and last year a 23-year-old patron was shot after leaving the club at closing time. Police officers testified at the April 24 hearing that gang members from outside the community frequented the club, which searches patrons for weapons and does not allow gang colors or signs inside the establishment. Owner Vu Huynh says he's doing all he can to keep things safe, including installing an elaborate security system both inside and outside the club.

"The patrons are safer than the residents," Fogleman told Huynh. "It doesn't make sense--you have a larger security force than the entire Southern District Sector 1, and the police shouldn't need to be there every week, but they are. In the end, there are just too many reports of neighbors being unsafe."

Attorneys for Huynh said the club's opponents were motivated by racism against its predominately black and Hispanic clientele and called club patrons to testify that they had been harassed by neighborhood activists, who have been videotaping activity at the club. The allegations are repeated in a $1.5 million lawsuit filed April 12 by Huynh in Baltimore Circuit Court against William and Gail Lehman, who live nearby.

The suit alleges that the Lehmans conspired to drive business away from the club. The Lehmans deny that any racism was involved, and Michelle Pierce, attorney for the residents, called witnesses before the Liquor License Board to testify that the Lehmans were not racist, and characterized the lawsuit as an attempt at intimidation. William Lehman, a lieutenant with the Baltimore Fire Department, said the allegations against him and his wife were unfounded.

Fogleman discounted the allegations in his decision. "I don't believe either side is racist here," he said, adding that half of the recent protest hearings before the board involved similar allegations. "The board is tired of allegations of racism. We would like to think, that as a multiracial board, we can do our job . . . and determine the merits of the case without allegations of racism."

Standing on the City Hall sidewalk shortly before midnight, Mate attorneys Arthur Frank and Steven Wyman said they plan to continue the lawsuit against the Lehmans and appeal the board's decision. Without a liquor license, Frank said, the value of the property is greatly diminished. "It's just a piece of real estate," he said.

Huynh said he was surprised and disappointed by the results of the hearing. "I don't understand it," he said. "I think it's just politics."

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