Renton targets bar's liquor license | Making a stand in north Renton
By DEAN RADFORD
Renton Reporter Editor
January 27, 2012 · 10:43 AM
Gunfire erupted outside Trophies Bar and Eatery the night of Dec. 9. A bullet struck the front door of a nearby home.
It’s one reason why the City of Renton wants the state to revoke Trophies’ liquor license.
“We fear it’s just a matter of time before an innocent resident is going to be shot by an errant bullet,” Mayor Denis Law wrote in a Dec. 13 letter to the enforcement chief of the Washington state Liquor Control Board.
Trophies is but one of the issues the City of Renton is addressing to make residents feel safe in north Renton. But there are other issues on the city’s radar screen, too, that are affecting residents’ quality of life in this classic Renton neighborhood.
Absentee landlords let properties deteriorate or don’t fully check the backgrounds of their tenants. Even the judicial system lets juvenile offenders off easily, who then return to north Renton to offend again, Law says.
But as a public safety issue, Trophies has stood out.
In a recent interview earlier this month with the Renton Reporter, Trophies managers Darron Cage and Kai Thomas said Trophies will be a much different place when its liquor license comes up for renewal in June.
The biggest change is the name. Starting Friday, Trophies will have a new one, Nations Pub:liq. It will become an internationally themed sports bar featuring soccer and other sports in season on TVs.
It’s been closed for several days for some remodeling and will have a grand reopening at 2 p.m. today (Friday).
“Trophies doesn’t exist any more,” Thomas said Wednesday.
Trophies opened in summer 2010 as a sports bar and nightclub, with the idea of showcasing young artists.
“In this area, in this demographic it’s mostly rap,” Cage said of the music the club featured.
The formula drew a big crowd that filled the dance floor and made money. Trophies had security working inside the club and in the parking lot.
But that young crowd became the source of many of Trophies’ problems, along with employees who weren’t following the rules and were let go, Thomas said.
So now, the music will change 80s and 90s cover bands, with a softer rock.
“We’d rather make a slow dollar rather than a fast one any day if it’s going to keep people safe,” said Cage, whose brother Art owns Trophies.
The menu is upgraded, with breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Law’s letters to the liquor board go back to last fall. In a letter to board chair Sharon Foster Nov. 3, Law wrote that in the previous 15 months, Renton officers responded to Trophies 135 times, including 29 calls for disputes, fights and assaults.
Trophies has its own history with the liquor control board.
Trophies opened in September 2010 on Park Avenue North; the next month it received three verbal warnings, including one for disorderly conduct. Through early December, Trophies has received 18 verbal warnings or violation notices from enforcement agents.
Last August its liquor license was suspended for five days because of inadequate lighting, which meant the agent didn’t have enough light to read a patron’s identification.
Trophies is what the liquor control board calls a “location of strategic interest,” a place that will receive extra resources and attention. That could include undercover operations and education and training.
“Bottom line, Trophies is on our radar,” said Brian Smith, a liquor board spokesman. “We have and will continue to dedicate resources to this location to address the public safety issues associated with it.”
Across Park Avenue from Trophies stands a 6-foot wooden fence, put there by residents who feared their homes would get hit by bullets.
In that Dec. 9 shooting a bullet hit a front door of one of the houses.
“People are to that level of frustration and desperation that they are trying to do what they can to protect themselves,” Law said.
But as Law pointed out, a wood fence isn’t going to stop a bullet from a 45-caliber gun.
The shooting outside Trophies turned into what officers described as “chaos,” Law wrote in his letter to the liquor control board. A man had fired a round at a woman, but missed her. A large crowd came out of Trophies and several more rounds were fired from a large-caliber gun.
“While we sincerely hope that there is a strong enough case pending to allow you to revoke the liquor license from this establishment, I want to formally request at this time that any application for renewal of a liquor license for Trophies Bar and Eatery be denied,” he wrote on Dec. 13.
Now, Trophies is talking with the liquor board about transferring its liquor license to under the new name, Thomas said. The ownership doesn’t change.
Before Trophies opened in September 2010, the space at the corner of Park Avenue North and North Second Street was occupied by Northwest Sports Bar, which closed earlier in the year.
Early on, Cage said, a liquor board enforcement agent visited Trophies, telling the managers that Northwest Sports Bar had been a problem. The agent was there to make sure Trophies wasn’t causing the same problems, Cage said.
Business was brisk and they didn’t have any problems outside what normally occur running a bar, Cage said. There were four security guards inside and two outside “keeping peace,” he said; now there are three total.
The bar checks IDs; police will do warrant checks. If there’s a fight or other problem, 911 is called. Problem patrons aren’t allowed back in.
Police have told Cage about shootings outside, he said. He and Thomas are willing to talk with police and Law about the issues raised by police and the liquor control board.
“That’s why I am frustrated,” Cage said. “I want to know what the big problems are.”
Both were surprised to learn that police received 135 complaints about Trophies. Nor had they seen a complete list of verbal and written violations from the liquor control board.
Law said the city is “always willing to work with the management of any establishment that wants to cooperate in dealing with criminal activity that is impacting a neighborhood.”
A letter Trophies management sent to City Attorney Larry Warren “acts totally oblivious to knowledge of any criminal activity or violence on their property, which makes me question if there is any sincere desire to work with us to resolve issues,” he said.
In an interview, Cage and Thomas said there is the desire.
In recent months business at Trophies has “slowed down,” Cage said, in part because of the intense police and liquor board attention. The change in music also reduced the crowd.
Trophies is also at risk of losing its lease. The property owner is in the process of starting an eviction procedure. The city is gathering documentation for the landlord about the police response to Trophies, which it also will provide to Trophies.
Washington State Liquor Control Board violation history for Trophies Bar and Eatery
An Administrative Violation Notice (AVN) can result in a fine or license suspension. The licensee has due process including requesting an informal hearing with the LCB or formal hearing with an administrative law judge. Warnings do not result in a fine or suspension.
· 10-02-2010: disorderly conduct (verbal warning);
· 10-26-2010: unauthorized alterations (verbal warning);
· 10-30-2010: advertising violation (verbal warning);
· 11-10-2010: unauthorized alterations (verbal warning);
· 12-09-2010: inadequate lighting – (verbal warning);
· 12-10-2010: disorderly conduct (AVN); Paid $300 in lieu of 5-day suspension)
· 03-08-2011: employee drinking on-duty – (verbal warning);
· 03-20-2011: disorderly conduct (verbal warning);
· 04-11-2011: minor frequenting – (AVN); Paid $300 in lieu of 5-day suspension)
· 06-16-2011: over-service – (AVN); (5 day or $500; formal hearing requested)
· 07-13-2011: inadequate lighting – (verbal warning);
· 07-15-2011: furnishing alcohol to a minor – (AVN); day suspension; formal hearing requested
· 08-04-2011: inadequate lighting – (verbal warning);
· 08-04-2011: NSF check – (verbal warning);
· 08-05-2011: inadequate lighting/criminal conduct (AVN and written warning); 5 days or $100, missed deadline; 5-day suspension imposed
· 09-26-2011: inadequate lighting – (AVN); 5 day suspension or $500.00; Formal Hearing requested
· 10-12-2011: employee drinking on-duty/criminal conduct – (AVN and verbal warning). 7 day suspension; informal requested
· 12-01-2011: Over-service (AVN); 7 day suspension, hearing requested.
Source: Washington state Liquor Control Board
NORTH RENTON: COMING UP IN THE RENTON REPORTER
During the next several weeks, the Renton Reporter will continue to report on efforts by the City of Renton and the residents themselves to improve the quality of life in this venerable neighborhood between downtown and Kennydale.
Contact Renton Reporter Editor Dean Radford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-425-255-3484 (ext 5050).