Lawrence city officials are seeking to revoke the liquor license of Taste Lounge, Bar and Grill based on public safety concerns.
A bouncer was shot outside the bar, 804 W. 24th St., on March 17, and there were two other incidents where shots were fired outside the business last October and December. Suspects have been arrested and charged in all three cases.
“These are things that draw our attention when you have these threats to the safety and well-being of the community,” said Chad Sublet, an assistant city attorney.
City commissioners at their May 15 meeting are scheduled to conduct a hearing on whether Taste’s city liquor license should be revoked, and city staff members are also asking the commission to request a hearing before the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control to determine whether Taste’s state license should be suspended or revoked, according to an April 27 letter City Attorney Toni Wheeler sent to Taste’s owner, Lee Riley of Topeka.
A bar that loses its city-issued liquor license could still serve alcohol under its state license, but the city would not be able to collect alcohol sales tax funds, Sublet said. The ABC could also take notice of evidence presented at a city hearing, he said.
“We have a number of drinking establishments in the community. The vast majority of them are safe operations. The owners and the staff take their safety responsibilities seriously, and we occasionally have issues, and we want to work with the business owner,” City Manager David Corliss said. “When we find we’re not being successful, we want to present it to the City Commission and see if there is additional action we need to take.”
In the letter Wheeler said Riley met with Corliss, Police Chief Tarik Khatib and other city officials April 24 to discuss the city’s “public safety concerns with Taste.” The letter also mentions that Riley indicated he intended to cease operations at Taste before the May 15 hearing.
Sublet said Wednesday that for now the city planned to go forward with seeking the revocation until it received further notice, and Wheeler’s letter noted the city would likely defer or table the City Commission action if Taste surrenders its liquor license to the state before noon May 10.
Rich Blackmon, a Taste manager, who has defended the bar’s actions and said he thought it was being unfairly targeted, declined to confirm Wednesday that Riley intended to cease the bar’s operations.
The city also provided to the Journal-World on Wednesday the number of police and medical calls for service from Jan. 1, 2011, through April 1 to each establishment with an on-premise liquor license — mostly bars and restaurants.
Five establishments had a higher overall number of calls during that time than Taste, which has 75. They were:
• Abe and Jake’s Landing, 8 E. Sixth St., 163.
• The Oread, which includes The Cave nightclub and everything within the hotel and development, 1200 Oread Ave., 122.
• Tonic, 728 Mass., 99.
• The Hawk, 1340 Ohio, 93.
• Cadillac Ranch, 2515 W. Sixth St., 91.
The calls include everything that originated from that address, including alarms, bar checks, alcohol violations and battery calls or more serious crimes. Sublet said the average number of calls among the more than 100 establishments was 19.8.
Blackmon questioned why city officials would seek to revoke Taste’s liquor license when five other bars had a higher number of calls.
Aside from the firearms-related calls, Taste had only five battery calls listed, while Abe and Jake’s had 26, The Oread had 18, 15 were listed at Cadillac Ranch, 10 at The Hawk, and 19 at Tonic.
“It has to be important to point out,” he said. “So why are they coming after us?”
Sublet said the city’s action at Taste was driven by the violent crime calls at Taste, including the March shooting and two other incidents when shots were fired outside in October.
Corliss and Sublet said city officials either had already met with or arranged to meet with owners of the five other establishments. The city is not currently seeking to revoke their liquor licenses, they said.
According to the ABC, Taste has no violations for serving alcohol to minors, but it had a citation issued in March for not timely filing its liquor drink tax in September to December of last year.
Lawrence police also said last month they intended to send a report to the ABC alleging that on April 15 Taste was open past 2 a.m. and had failed to properly display its liquor license. Blackmon has said the bar was open serving chicken wings and not alcohol, and he said Wednesday the business had not received notice of that incident from the state.
Capt. Bill Cory, a Lawrence police patrol supervisor, said officers had two discussions with Taste staff members in the parking lot after two recent incidents, including on April 15.
“When you have an establishment that has violent crime, the city has to explore all of its options dealing with those issues,” Cory said Wednesday of the city’s revocation request.
The city pursued similar avenues in recent years against establishments that had problems with violence. Owners of Last Call closed the nightclub in the 700 block of New Hampshire Street after a legal battle with the city. In 2009, owners of the former Club Axis, 821 Iowa, previously known as Moon Bar, also closed its doors and surrendered the club’s state liquor license.