The Museum

The Museum (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun / April 4, 2013)

The petition for a hearing came after months of frustration, residents said. Neighbors have filed 42 complaints via the 311 system about the Museum since October, with 13 of them referred to the liquor agency, according to the system's records.

"I was told my first complaint was resolved, but obviously not. PLEASE deal with the noise situation," a complaint filed Nov. 11 reads.

When issues do come before the three-member liquor board — which oversees the inspectors — they are usually dealt with consistently, the state auditors found. Community association leaders said they think Chairman Steve Fogleman gives them a fair hearing.

Fogleman does not run the liquor agency day to day; that's Daniels' job. But Fogleman said the report's findings give him a "mandate for change."

He added that he strongly supported the board using the 311 system, an upgrade from a single cellphone line, and said that thousands of complaints had been successfully resolved.

Club Confetti in Upper Fells Point was called before the board late last month in response to multiple complaints about assaults and reported violations of liquor laws. Residents had called 311 about the establishment 23 times since October.

"Several guys drunk thrown out of the bar over 15 mins of yelling and banging on the door then the bar called the police," reads a complaint about the bar filed Nov. 18.

"At closing customers yelling and get into a fight where a guy punched another knowing [sic] him to the ground," another reads.

The club disputes the complaints. The owner of the bar, named in liquor-licensing records as Cristin Neal Adad, did not respond to requests for comment. Franklin Alvarado, a manager, said the bar was "taking care" of some problems.

A liquor board ruling on Club Confetti was postponed.

Bernhard mounted a campaign to get La Raza Cantina, an Eastern Avenue bar, closed down. Residents filed noise complaints via the 311 system, but in some cases inspectors later deemed them unfounded.

"We've had to go and do sleuthing to get pictures of live entertainment," Bernhard said. "We really are the police where [the inspectors] should be."

Bernhard said that might have been because the inspectors did not come out immediately, another common complaint among neighborhood activists. "There was an issue where there was loud noise reported on a Saturday evening [and] the liquor board inspector came out on a Monday afternoon before the bar even opened."

Noise is a problem for bars across Baltimore, but inspectors chose an unusual approach to dealing with it, auditors found. Although the board has a noise meter, inspectors chose to trust their ears instead, according to the audit.

The auditors were perplexed. "It would appear appropriate for [the board] to use objective, scientific equipment to determine the validity of noise complaints," they wrote.

In the end, La Raza's neighbors hired a lawyer and presented evidence in a two-hour hearing before the board in November.

The board took the bar's license away, but the owners appealed to Circuit Court, so the bar stayed open temporarily.

Jenny Mejia, who ran La Raza and is named on its liquor license, said neighbors had made a racially motivated decision to drive her out of business and made unfounded complaints.

"There wasn't no drug dealing in the building, there were no issues or anything apart from two incidents that happened outside the place," she said. "They were being racist."

Bernhard said race did not play a role in the community's opposition to the bar.

At the end of March, a Baltimore judge upheld the board's decision to revoke La Raza's license, but not before its owners had been fined $500 for selling a $5 glass of Wild Turkey whiskey to an underage police cadet in January.

iduncan@baltsun.com

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An earlier version of this story erroneously attributed a quote to Victor Corbin, president of the Fells Prospect Community Association. It has been corrected here.