Public enemy No. 1 for the Lawrence police used to be Last Call, the bar in the 700 block of New Hampshire Street. A few years ago, it was a near-weekly occurrence for police to find guns in patrons’ vehicles and to respond to calls of other dangerous actions in and near Last Call.
In May 2006, seven shots were fired inside Last Call. No injuries were reported, but the incident was just one of many linked to the bar. Then, on the early morning of Feb. 10, 2008, three people were taken to the hospital after eight shots were fired outside the bar. Two of the victims were Last Call employees, and the third, a 15-year-old Topeka boy, had been inside the bar before the shooting. At that point, the city took action: Last Call owner Dennis Steffes lost his license and the bar closed.
The Last Call era was a dangerous time for Lawrence. Police increased late-night patrols and continued to monitor the city’s bar scene. To their credit, Lawrence police and city officials continued to keep tabs on the drinking establishments that have drawn the most attention over the past 15 months, according to a city report. Police calls range from noise complaints and welfare checks to fights and disturbances with a weapon.
City officials have met or plan to meet with the owners of the establishments with the most police calls. City Manager David Corliss said city officials are generally pleased with the conversations they have had with owners and they hope the meetings result in increased safety and reduced police calls in the future. Owners and managers of some establishments say they welcome the conversations and are trying to reduce police calls.
At the same time city officials are monitoring police calls at local bars, they also should make sure such establishments undergo fire inspections that ensure adequate fire safety and evacuation measures. Such reviews could reduce the odds of a tragic loss of life due to overcrowding or insufficient exits.
Coming in at No. 6 on the city’s police call list was Taste Lounge, Bar and Grill, 804 W. 24th St. Taste may not have the most calls, but the reports there were more severe, such as three firearm-related incidents, including the March 17 shooting of a bouncer and an alleged rape.
On the advice of city staff, commissioners Tuesday ordered Taste’s city license be revoked because they don’t believe the owner, Lee Riley, is doing enough to prevent violence in the bar. Commissioners also directed staff to ask the state Alcohol Beverage Control division to revoke the bar’s liquor license.
The city is taking the correct action by revoking Taste’s license and meeting with the owners of other bars that have racked up dozens of police calls. The message they are sending is clear: The days of tolerating problem establishments such as Last Call are over.