Baltimore Liquor Board punts on Tiki Barge decision
After a four-hour hearing to decide on the fate of the Tiki Barge, the Baltimore Liquor Board punted on a verdict Thursday.
The board members instead ordered Team Tiki and Team No-Tiki to meet, hash out their differences, and reconvene before the board in three weeks with some kind of agreement.
"We’re going to urge the party to come together, and if they don’t, we’ll make a decision based on the evidence,” said Stephan Fogleman, chairman of the board.
The hearing was not a record one, Fogleman said; "Maybe top 12." But it must have set a benchmark for the highest number of times the phrase "public urination" was uttered out loud by fully-grown adults.
I was there for all four, mind-numbing hours. Here's my dispatch:
The hearing started at 3 p.m. at room #215 of City Hall.
Throughout, Mel Kodenski, an attorney who often represents bars before the liquor board, spoke for the barge, and Matthew Klaiber, a neigbhbor represented the petitioners against it.
In attendance was a crowd of some 40 people, all sworn in in unison, though only about ten testified.
If you didn't read Wednesday's story, some of the barge's neighbors - eventually 40 - joined a petition accusing the patrons of the Tiki Barge of everything from public nudity to public urination; one of the more head-scratching complaints accused a patron of "simulated sex with a potted palm tree."
The petition also included a picture of a bosomy brunette who critics say was goaded into taking off her top, which, if you ask me, would have suggested a classic New York Post headline: "Topless woman at the Tiki Barge."
Team No-Tiki went first on Thursday. There was Marie Washington, a 62-year-old woman who lives at the Townes of Harborview, who said the bar's patron's tend to congregate outside her house.
"My problem is that it creates a safety issue for me," she said. She added that noise is also a problem: "I've been woken up by individuals on weekends late night who are intruding into my ability to enjoy my own home," she said.
Four others spoke against the barge, then Team Tiki came on. I'll save you the sparring over license minutiae; early in the meeting Fogleman dismissed the petitioners' claim that the barge's liquor license was only limited to Tabrizi's and Sorso Cafe.
Kim Acton, the former owner of Locust Point’s Pazza Luna, and a resident in the area for six years - she's now at Harborview Tower - said she's been coming to the Tiki Barge since it opened.
It's given the neighborhood a nightlife anchor it didn't have before, she said.
“There was nothing here before,” she said. “This gave it life.”
The 51-year-old also helped set aside the notion that the Tiki Barge is only enjoyed by fratty, young people.
"I've entertained family, guests, I've never had an unpleasant experience," she said. "They've given me a place to be proud of."
Bud Craven, the bar’s manager also spoke in support of the bar. If it re-opens, he said it will include an expanded menu. Richard Swirnow, who developed much of this area, also defended it.
Kodenski said the barge’s owners taken precautions, like hiring off-duty police, to monitor patrons. He also noted the barge hasn’t caught the attention of law enforcement.
A spokesman for Baltimore Police described the area around the bar as “quiet” earlier this week.
Over the course of the meeting, certain phrases made the sleepy crowd perk up. "How can you differentiate between animal and human urine?" an incredulous Tiki supporter said at one point. The hearing's stenographer had to drily intervene at another: "Can we keep the joking to a minimum? It's killing me."
The meeting finally came to a close at 7 p.m., an hour earlier than the hearing a few weeks earlier on Club Reality.
Alas, the potted palm tree never made an appearance.
Because of the sheer amount of evidence, and the copious testimony, Fogleman said the board members needed more time to review it all, and will reconvene in three weeks on the issue.
In that time, supporters and detractors can come up with an agreement among themselves about the barge. And if they don't, the board will make a decision for them once and for all.
Photo: The Tiki Barge last March (Gene Sweeney Jr./Baltimore Sun)