Beer Board Cracks Down On Da Building, The Willow Street Inn

Thursday, November 21, 2013 - by Gail Perry

Two businesses with a history of violations of the Chattanooga beer code came before the Beer Board Thursday morning. Dexter Staples, owner of Da Building, 1622 Dodds Ave., was there to appeal a citation for failing to get a special events permit, which is a new requirement for holding a gathering at “event halls” in the city.

On Sept. 22, at 1:36 a.m., Chattanooga Police Officer Terrence Tumblin arrived at Da Building and the manager of the event, Kenneth Johnson, was unable to provide a permit for the gathering that was in progress.

Alcohol was observed on tables, but Mr. Johnson told the officer that it had not been sold and no fees had been charged. He claimed that he thought a permit would not be required because there were fewer people present than the 50 specified in the new ordinance. Officer Tumblins’ understanding was that Dexter Staples had provided that information to the organizer of the event. Chattanooga Police Officer John Collins told the board that in mid-September, when he was at that location for another matter, he had left a copy of the new ordinance for Mr. Staples.

Mr. Staples denied having received a copy from the police saying he had gotten one directly from the mayor’s office. He also said that his place had not been rented since mid-August, and that stories of wild parties there are not true. He said he had changed the name and business license on Oct. 14 and the building is now a completely renovated restaurant. He said under the new name, he had declined to apply for a beer license.

 He did agree that 9-10 people had been there at 1:36 a.m. when police did the check, but told Beer Board member Ernestine Haynes that they were merely eating, since he is known for his cooking. He was not present when the police arrived, but said he understood only one customer had a beer. “You are alleging that the three officers there are not telling the truth?” asked board member Andre Harriman.

Answering Assistant City Attorney Keith Reisman, Mr. Staples said that night he was open and selling food, He agreed that he was open past midnight, that there was a bottle of beer open, and that the building will hold over 50 people. “Those are the conditions requiring a special events permit,” said the attorney, unless the operator has a beer permit, which he had denied having earlier in the meeting.

With a unanimous vote, Mr. Staples’ appeal of the citation was denied. Attorney Reisman warned that if another violation of neglecting to obtain a special events permit occurs, Da Building will be ineligible for getting a permit for an entire year.

The Willow Street Inn, 1306 S. Willow St., was charged with gambling on the premises. Responding to several complaints and a couple of calls to the anonymous police hot line, Police Officer Kimbrough went to the bar at 4:45 p.m. on July 24, accompanied by a vice squad and police. Earlier, two undercover officers had been sent.

Officer Kimbrough arrived with a search warrant, the third time he had executed a warrant at this location. On the prior visits, liquor was being served without a license, and a female employee was charged with selling it. Tip books had been spread on the counters on both of these inspections, and over $1,000 in bets had been found during one police visit. From the violation that occurred on Oct. 28, 2010 six people pleaded guilty. On Wednesday, the female employee was found guilty of illegal alcohol sales and sentenced to three months probation. On July 24, the most recent visit by police, an illegal lottery slip was found in the trash can beside the counter. “People know it is illegal and so they try to get rid of it,” said Officer Kimbrough.

This business has exterior cameras and people must be “buzzed in.” This provides a warning system and Officer Kimbrough said that in his personal opinion the house next door is helping the bar to monitor activity which alerts them that police are present.

Seven representatives from the Ridgedale Neighborhood Association and businesses located in the vicinity came to the meeting concerning the violations of both Da Building and The Willow Street Inn, lead by Vice President of the association, Gary Ball. Their mission is to let the beer board know that their decisions are important in maintaining a quality of life in the area for both residents and businesses in the highest “call-to–service-area” in the city of Chattanooga, it was stated.

Silverene Roundtree stressed how hard the association works to clean up the area that is inundated with drugs and other illegal activity including killings. Teresa Ivey told the board that she had seen an improvement since the city has required the special events license for event halls, and Michael Dupree thanked the board, the Chattanooga Police and the city for creating the new ordinance, which he said is helping to bring the situation under control.

After hearing the testimony and considering the history of the business, The Willow Street Inn was deemed by the board members to be a chronic place of gambling because past punishments had done nothing to deter the recurrence of the practice. Taking into consideration the sentiment of the neighborhood representatives, Andre Harriman made the motion to revoke the beer license. The motion passed on a vote of 6-1.

In other business, the board approved a beer permit for Main Street Meats, 217 E. Main St. This business is a full service butcher shop that serves mostly carry-out sandwiches, using meats that they sell. It has become a popular gathering place for business lunches, said co- owner Danny Ray Key. With only four bar stools and room for 12-15 people to stand at a counter, selling beer will not be their main concentration. The application for a license was approved for this business.

Beer permits were also given to Greenspaces and Slicks for events that will take place at “Main X24” on Dec. 7. Greenspaces will be selling beer from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. at 326 E. Main St. and Slicks will be selling beer along with their grilled burgers at the grassy lot at 309 E. Main St. from 10 a.m.-11 p.m. where a new building is planned next spring for their hamburger restaurant.

On Nov. 22 at Loose Cannon at 1800 Rossville Blvd., the Shriners will hold an event in conjunction with their Charity Ball that night. Proceeds from this affair, called Canned Goods and Cocktails, will provide food to the Chattanooga Food Bank. It will take place from 9 p.m.-2 a.m.

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