Last Call argues it’s been targeted for clientele
ABC hearing wraps up; decision on whether to renew club's liquor license expected by Dec. 3
- City wants Last Call’s license denied (09-06-07)
- State indicates willingness to help Lawrence with problems at bars (08-14-07)
- LawrenceKS.org: Letter from city leaders to Alcoholic Beverage Control division
- LawrenceKS.org: Staff memo with details of a proposed entertainment venue licensing system
- Should beer tax help pay for police? (07-21-07)
- Raising the bar on downtown safety: City, business owners discuss dangers (07-11-07)
- Turnover higher than usual for downtown vacancies (04-21-07)
- Downtown safety again in spotlight after melee (03-28-07)
- City looks at downtown safety issues (03-14-07)
- Mayor seeks stricter gun law (02-22-07)
- City asks state for advice on bar safety (01-30-07)
- City mum about liquor license of Last Call (01-20-07)
- Six arrested outside downtown club (12-27-06)
- 2 arrested downtown for gun violations (12-16-06)
The controversial downtown club Last Call is safer than most and is falling victim to stereotypes associated with hip-hop music, supporters of the club told state regulators who are considering pulling the club’s liquor license.
“There’s a thing called fear of a black dance floor,” Topeka disc jockey Vandom Pittman told the director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control division Tuesday. “Anyplace there are more than 10 black people, unless it is a church, there’s fear.”
On the second and final day of a hearing to determine whether the state should renew the liquor license of Last Call, 729 N.H., the club’s owner and attorney alleged the city’s police force has improperly targeted the club and have misrepresented the amount of criminal activity happening at the club.
As expected, the director of the ABC did not issue a ruling on the license issue. He expects to decide whether to renew the license by Dec. 3, the day the club’s license is set to expire.
City leaders vigorously denied any suggestion that they have targeted the club because the vast majority of its patrons are black or that it has a hip-hop music format. Instead, city attorneys presented evidence that the club has issues with gang activity, drug usage and weapons violations.
“Last Call has real problems,” Scott Miller, an attorney for the city said. “It is a public safety concern. It is a public safety menace.”
Dan Owen, an attorney for Last Call owner Dennis Steffes, said many of the police reports being attributed to Last Call are related to activity outside of the bar. Owen also said several of the police reports came about because Last Call had called the police notifying them of problems. In one case, Last Call staff called the police after its security crew confiscated drugs from an individual attempting to enter the club. Owen said it was wrong of the city to use that report against the club, in part, because it would discourage other clubs from calling the police when problems arise.
“That would be one of the most unwise public policies that I have ever heard of,” Owen said.
Club patrons’ view
Several patrons also testified that conditions in the club were not as bad as police officers had described in testimony Monday.
“It gets packed and sometimes someone steps on someone’s foot or something and someone gets mad, but security is always right on it,” said Rick Easter, a longtime patron who recently began working at the club. “There’s never been a brawl or anything like that.”
Pittman, who has worked previously as a disc jockey at Last Call, said the safety of the club is why it attracts a large crowd from many area cities.
“The reason they come to Lawrence is because they get discriminated against everywhere else they go,” Pittman said. “Club owners get scared if too many minorities are in their business. Dennis is the first one to break through that in Lawrence.”
City attorneys, though, countered that the club has become an attraction to gang members because the club’s security staff does not cooperate with the police. Instead, the city argues that Last Call security personnel make it widely known when police are entering the building.
“Last Call’s security system is nothing more than a Paul Revere system: The police are coming. The police are coming,” Miller said.
Steffes testified that he’s become frustrated with the way the city has dealt with his club. He said police officers frequently monitored the club from the rooftop of the Hobbs Taylor Loft building across the street. Surveillance cameras trained on the club also were placed in that building. Steffes said that on at least three occasions a sheriff’s dog was placed in front of the building and intimidated patrons entering the bar.
Steffes said he believes he’s been responsive to problems that have occurred at the club. Following a May 2006 incident where seven shots were fired in the club, Steffes said he purchased a metal detector and hired an outside security firm to conduct pat-downs of all patrons entering the club. He said he or an employee screens all people wishing to enter the club to determine if they have a “respectful” attitude.
“I’m not going to say that we have never had a problem,” Steffes said. “I’m not going to say that we have never had staff members misbehave or some other issue. But we take care of the problems and they don’t last long.
“But now, we have reached the point where they (city leaders) just don’t like who I am letting in.”
The city requested the two-day hearing regarding the Last Call’s liquor license renewal. The club needs the state liquor license to remain in business. But if the license is not renewed, it likely would start a lengthy legal battle. Steffes could appeal the decision on several levels, and Owen said Tuesday the appeal process likely would be a two- to three-year legal odyssey.