Liquor license enforcement not race related

Anthony Lonon locked the doors of his two popular Athens nightclubs for one last time, which changed the nightclub scene for both students and Athenians. Unlike other clubs that graced Athens’ buildings in the past, this club closed for in-house reasons and not because of what people believed to be a showcase of racial biases from enforcement.

For years, speculations of racial prejudices against African-American owned clubs circled around in the classic city. Now documentation of liquor license violations and statements from club owners and students disprove this myth. Police units and government officials enforce strict adherence to liquor license violations.

“When I went to Clarke County and told them what I wanted to do, they were very helpful and everybody seemed to have good attitudes about it,” Lonon said.

Former clubs that closed include Top Dawg, Bulldog Café, Sky City and Aftermath. All have closed down because of liquor license violations with the exception of Sky City and Bulldog Café. The problems that these clubs face however are self-inflicted by the owners of the businesses.

Former club owners and students agreed that certain clubs with poor management face permanent or temporary shutdowns from liquor license violations.

“A lot of the downtown clubs like to make excuses and say we got shutdown because the police did this and people didn’t do this but most of the time it was because they didn’t do what they were supposed to do and they’re looking for an excuse to overcome their short comings,” Lonon said.

Jarred Moore visited all of these clubs during his undergraduate years. He agreed that poor management threatens black-owned clubs and the safety of visitors.

“When you go to certain clubs the way the crowd acts is generally a direct reflection of how lax the management is on regulating the atmosphere,” Moore said. “Of course going out is a way to let go of the stresses endured during the week but at what point do you consider safety?”

Lack of cooperation with government officials and enforcement attributed to harder crack downs harder on these clubs. Lonon had great business rapport with government officials and police officers. He believed this relationship benefited the livelihood of his two clubs Bulldog Café and Sky City.

“As far as businesses are concerned in Athens-Clarke County I think that no matter what kind of business you’re running here if you go to the right people and you go to them with the right attitude, I think they are willing to help,” Lonon said.

Capt. Melanie Rutledge contested Lonon’s statement and thinks all businesses cooperate in order to have a successful business.

“I don’t know that we have a bad relationship with any of them. The guys that work in the downtown unit, the lieutenant and sergeants, I think they know them and have a really good relationship with them,” Rutledge said. “They want their business to be respectful and not thought of as a dangerous place for people to go so they’re very compliant and work with us as far as I know.”

Competition created a loss of revenue between club owners who planned similar events at the same time as each other. Lonon recalled nights where he planned events geared toward college students and within hours other venues promoted similar events for the same time. Residents noticed when clubs would host similar events on the same night and they had to choose where to go.

“When clubs would have the same party on the same night it just came down to which club had the better crowd and reputation,” India Kimbro said. “At the end of the day it’s where your friends want to go and where you know you’ll have fun and be safe for the night.”

Chuck Moore agreed that club ownership in Athens is a tough business because of the stiff competition to attract more people. Moore works for the Financial Services Division of the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government. The Business and Tax Revenue department of this division reviews and issues alcohol license applications. If a business violates the license, the Municipal Court can order the department to revoke the license or the business faces a probationary period.

“It’s a dog eat dog business with owning a club in Athens,” Moore said. “I mean it’s got to be tough.”

Police officers created new methods to ensure that clubs complied with liquor license rules. If a club is found in violation of these rules they are cited on the spot and must appear in the Municipal Court before a judge.

“We have an alcohol unit and they go in and do undercover operations at bars and make sure they’re in compliance with checking ID’s and not selling underage,” Rutledge said. “When there is a violation they go in right then and write them a ticket and those are offenses that you can’t just go pay the citation. It’s a court only issue so they have to go before the judge.”

The Municipal Court judge determines a penalty for the violator to adhere to. These penalties range from fines and probationary periods to liquor license revocations.

Once a business completes their court order they fill out a new 16-page liquor license application that includes a comprehensive criminal background check of the owner, consideration of previous violations, and a schedule of fees they must pay in order to sell certain types of alcohol. The amount of money business pays varies on the way the alcohol is served or sold to customers.

“The idea is just that we don’t tax them to death and keep it fair so big bars pay more and little bars pay less,” Chuck Moore said. “ It’s all politics set by the Mayor and Commission.”

Aftermath closed before for liquor license violations, fire code violations and total interior renovations. In the most recent liquor license application, Aftermath reported three violations of fire code safety violations. To reopen they paid almost $6,000 for filing a late application and to serve alcohol beverages by the drink.

Top Dawg closed in the summer of 2010 after a liquor license revocation. This space is now occupied by the 9d’s and 8e’s bar in Downtown Athens.
Lonon’s clubs closed down last year because of a dispute with new building owners who did not agree with his lease renewal requests.

“We had our share of problems but ultimately, I decided I wasn’t going to sign a new lease for a company who wasn’t going to do anything so we moved out with intentions of building a new facility from the ground up,” Lonon said.

Most club owners tend to take their business elsewhere in hopes to have a more lucrative business. Lonon decided to keep his business within Athens just through other entertainment venues. He owns five other businesses but hopes to build a new nightclub from the ground up and start a local radio station.

Students remain skeptical of racism in downtown Athens but the problem seems to stem from local bars toward students and not from government officials against black-owned bars. A Red & Black article addressed the problem of discriminatory dress codes, event cancelations based on “the type of crowd attracted” and anti hip-hop acts by DJ’s.

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