Citing numerous accounts of neighborhood disturbances, the Baltimore Board of Liquor License Commissioners ruled not to renew the license of the Museum Restaurant and Lounge in Mount Vernon after four hours of deliberation Thursday night.
Liquor board chairman Steve Fogleman said management of the Museum — which set up in the former Brass Elephant space — presented the business as an “upscale restaurant” when applying for the license, but it was in reality a nightclub. He refuted Museum owner Walter Webb’s claims from earlier this month that Webb had been unfairly targeted because he is one of the few African American business owners in Mount Vernon. Webb could not be reached for comment Friday.
“This had nothing to do with racism,” Fogleman said. “This had to do with an old fashioned switcheroo. ... It was sold as a restaurant, and the community accepted it.”
The Museum’s current license will expire at midnight May 1.
The decision not to renew the license was based entirely on the number of complaints made by Mount Vernon residents, Fogleman said. Opponents of the Museum had been frustrated for months; according to records, 42 complaints had been filed against the Museum — via the 311 system — since October. Fifty-five people signed a petition seeking the revocation of Museum’s license. The problems mostly stemmed from DJs using loud sound systems to play music, they claimed.
“All problems were created by the Museum,” said Jason Curtis, president of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association. “Nothing was dreamt up [by] any resident of Mount Vernon.”
Approximately 30 Mount Vernon residents appeared at the hearing, Curtis said. Members testified and provided evidence of Museum’s sound system disturbing neighbors. One resident played audio of the thumping bass she recorded on her iPhone.
Fogleman said he believes Museum has the right, under zoning, to operate as a restaurant. Top Brass, which holds the liquor license, could also appeal the Liquor Board’s decision in Baltimore City Circuit Court.
The neighborhood association is “very excited with the fact that we were able to close down a problematic nightclub,” Curtis said, but also disappointed about the prospects of an empty storefront in a prime Mount Vernon location. He said the association would challenge any potential tenant hoping to have late-night entertainment such as DJs and dancing.
“We don’t believe live entertainment for a nightclub’s purposes, with everything we already have, is necessary,” Curtis said. “From the [Washington] Monument to Mount Royal Avenue, you can look at all the establishments that have live entertainment already.”
The ruling comes weeks after state auditors found problems at the liquor board, ranging from failing to follow state law in awarding licenses to inconsistently handling inspections.
“We’ve already made some necessary changes and there are more coming,” Fogleman said. “We are doing professional evaluations of our inspectors. We’re beginning the draft of our inspector guidelines.”“