City asks state for advice on bar safety

Police arrest 2 more for guns downtown

The city has sent a letter to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control division asking the licensing agency what action, if any, the state could take against troublesome bars in Lawrence.

The letter, sent by City Manager David Corliss and not released to the public, asked for information on whether the state could revoke the liquor license of or otherwise punish bars that have a track record of endangering the public.

The letter did not specifically mention Last Call – a bar at 729 N.H. with a history of violent incidents – but Corliss said those incidents led to the letter.

“It’s very clear that the safety issues related to Last Call and other establishments in the past have prompted our interest in what the state can do,” Corliss said.

The city sent the letter just days before two more people were arrested outside the nightclub on gun possession charges.

Police early Sunday found a loaded .25-caliber handgun in a car belonging to a man and a woman from the Kansas City area after security guards at the club had asked the man to leave.

The 22-year-old Kansas City, Mo., man, and a 19-year-old Grandview, Mo., woman were booked Sunday into Douglas County Jail on charges of possessing a firearm near a bar. The man also was arrested under suspicion of possessing drugs.

The gun was at least the 21st weapon police have found in the downtown area; several have been seized from parking lots adjacent to the club.

Dennis Steffes, owner of Last Call, said his bar operated within the law and thought the city’s request to the state to help revoke bar licenses was unnecessary.

“Nothing we do is illegal,” Steffes said. “No one has come forward yet to say, ‘This is what you should do different.’ I’m waiting for that.”

As for the weapons charges, Steffes said he couldn’t control what his clientele had in their cars when they came to the club. He can only control what they bring inside the club, and he said he did all he could to ensure his patrons were safe while inside.

“I don’t know what I could do to prevent a gun being in a car,” he said.

City commissioners asked during their Jan. 2 meeting for staff members to contact the state about the possibility of revoking a club’s liquor license. Last Call’s license was renewed for another year in November.

The city will meet in a closed-door meeting this week with staff and other “concerned parties” to discuss how to proceed depending on the state’s response.

Alcoholic Beverage Control officials did not return calls Monday seeking comment on what the agency could do about troublesome bars and nightclubs.

Regardless, city officials seem ready to take some action.

City Commissioner David Schauner said he was ready to move forward with a measure that would help ensure downtown safety – whether that includes special permits for bars and nightclubs or state enforcement.

“My hope is that we finally stop talking about what’s going on down there and take some positive steps to make it a better environment,” Schauner said. “We need to get our hands around it and make a decision.”