The charge of over-serving was the cause of four hearings at the Chattanooga Beer Board meeting Thursday morning - with one result in a total six-day beer license suspension for The Big Chill.
For the most part, employees who deal with customers in bars and restaurants have had training to know the rules that apply to the serving of alcohol. One standard is that a bar cannot serve a person who is perceived to be intoxicated. The four cases at the beer board meeting served as examples of how difficult it is to determine that condition.
There is no measurement to use as a standard for public intoxication, said Assistant City Attorney Keith Reisman. The blood alcohol level of .08 is the point that is considered intoxicated for the driver of a motor vehicle and most police officers use this as a standard measurement for public intoxication as well. Bars and restaurants must rely on personal observations based on training, for things to watch for such as staggering, slurring words, loud and rowdy behavior or sometimes a person becomes very quiet.
The people giving testimony about these cases demonstrated the problems of recognizing intoxication with accuracy. The burden falls on the bar to make that determination, and often a customer does not display any signs or characteristics that they are drunk. The bar owners, managers, servers and doormen that are employed by the businesses charged with violations at this meeting, tried to screen out people they believed were intoxicated, yet despite their efforts, problems developed.
On June 12 at 11:30 p.m., a Chattanooga police officer was called to deal with a disorder at RAW, 409 Market St., where a bartender had been assaulted with a beer bottle. The man taken into custody had come to the bar with a group of five people, after being at Riverbend earlier in the evening. The bartender made the decision to refuse service to three individuals in the group because they appeared to be intoxicated. One man in the group ordered a beer and one shot of whisky for himself and another beer for his friend. The friend got sick and the bartender hesitated to serve him which angered the man that had ordered the drinks and triggered him to throw the bottle at the bartender hitting her in the back. He then left the building. The DJ, an employee of RAW chased him into the street and flagged an officer. The customer registered .204 on the breathalyzer test and was arrested for aggravated assault. The legal limit for driving is .08.
Jim Striker, owner of the bar, said his employees did everything they should have done adding that if the bartender had served the intoxicated man, there would have been no incident. This happened about 15 minutes before the doorman arrived for the night. Board member Christopher Keene commented that having a doorman present to help screen out intoxicated customers is about the only other thing the business could have done, and suggested they employ one whenever the business is open. A vote of five for and three against resulted in the charges being dismissed against the bar.
On June 27 a head-on car crash occurred on Westside Drive at 12:45 a.m. in front of the King’s Lodge. The driver told the responding officer that he had just come from The Big Chill, 103 Cherokee Blvd. Because of a prior medical condition he was not asked to do any physical test to determine a level of intoxication, but did have difficulty with the verbal tests and his blood alcohol level registered .146. He told the officer that the driver coming toward him drifted into his lane, when skid marks proved his car had crossed into the oncoming traffic.
Interviews with the server and manager at the Big Chill along with the receipt for his purchases showed the man had been in the bar just two hours and that he had not shown signs of intoxication when he entered and was served. During the time at the bar he drank a little more than two beers and the bar employees did not detect any signs of intoxication. Attorney Reisman reminded the board that the question to decide was only if the man had been intoxicated when he was served at Big Chill. The vote of five to three decided that he had been.
This is the second violation of over-serving for this business in the four months it has been open at its new location. The first occurred on March 29 this year and at that time the bar opted to pay a $1,000 fine as a penalty. This time a three-day suspension was given that will be from July 31-Aug. 2.
The night following that incident, June 28, Officer John Collins accompanied by three other officers went to the Big Chill to issue the citation and a bar check was done at the same time. As the officers were walking through the bar they noticed an individual that was flushed, had slurred speech and was staggering toward his table.
He told the officer that he had been drinking all day, then at Nightfall and continuing at the Big Chill. He admitted that he was drunk when he arrived at the bar, yet the server and bartender said he did not appear to be intoxicated. He was sold two shots of liquor and a started a tab. One hour later when the breathalyzer test was administered, he registered .277. Attorney Johnny Houston representing the Big Chill attributed this discrepancy to the fact that the man had just reached his personal limit. This incident which occurred when the police happened to be there dealing with another violation, resulted in an additional three day suspension of the beer permit on Aug. 7, 8 and 9.
The Beer Board also heard a complaint against Beast and Barrel, 16 Frazier Ave., for the same offense of over-serving a customer. A party of six came to the restaurant after leaving the wine event “Uncorked” at Renaissance Park on June 1, where they had been drinking. One man in the group ordered a shot of whisky and a beer for himself who the server said appeared to be “composed” upon arrival. After 30 minutes she said it was obvious that both the man and his girlfriend appeared drunk and were cut off from alcohol service. The bartender called a cab for them but the man left and walked outside, sat on the curb and passed out.
The police were summoned and owner Mat Lewis said that the employees did what they were trained to do but “circumstances that were beyond our control took place. The board voted to give the restaurant a written warning for this incident.
Hailey Bates, event manager of Finley Stadium, and Executive director Paul Smith applied to the board for a beer permit since the food and beverage service at the stadium is transitioning to be done in-house. Previously, the caterer, Family Concessions held the beer license for the facility. Plans are not yet complete for the handling of beer sales, but Ms. Bates had planned to get the license so there would be no lapse during the change from contractor to in-house. Plans were for the contractor to use his license which uses the stadium’s address, until insurance matters were approved by the stadium board.
Attorney Reisman said if the new license was issued that there would be two permits with the same address and may not be legal and needed to research the matter. The application was passed to the Aug. 7 meeting of the beer board.
The grand opening for the new Publix at 499 N. Market St. is scheduled for Aug. 6. The manager applied for a license to sell beer. A problem with the fire alarm and sprinkler system has delayed the building being approved for a certificate of occupancy. Without the certification from fire and building inspectors the board is unable to issue a beer permit.
Board member Christopher Keene said “this is a great addition to the city. He said, "I think we need to do something to help them,” and suggested calling a special meeting since the next scheduled beer board meeting is after the opening date of the store. Attorney Reisman has planned a special meeting for July 31 at 9 a.m.
Two special events beer permits were issued Thursday morning. Friends of the Festival was approved to sell beer at Riverfront Nights at Ross’s Landing on Aug. 2, 9,16 and 30. This year, said Karen Shostak, there will be a variety of music including country, rock jam and 70’s and 80’s music. The free series is held on the waterfront and will have food vendors along with the beer sales. She said these events are kid and dog friendly.
Cannonb and Cannon Inc. , and engineering firm from Knoxville, is holding a client appreciation dinner at the pavilion in Coolidge Park on July 20, from 6-10 p.m. Approval was given for beer to be served at the invitation only event.
Serving as the Wrecker Board, N.C. Towing was approved for a new license required because of a change of address.