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Thursday, January 28, 2021

State Makes Rare Move in Revoking Barley House Liquor License for COVID Violations; Bar Will Have to Go to Court If It Wants It Back

Posted By on Thu, Jan 28, 2021 at 11:38 AM

  • Video still from Nov. 14 cited as evidence by the Ohio Investigative Unit

The penalties handed out by the Ohio Liquor Commission to the Barley House for three of four recent violations were relatively minor.

Agents in December 2019 found that the West 6th Street establishment in unsanitary conditions. For that, the commission issued a 3-day liquor license suspension to begin in late February that could be avoided with a $300 fine instead.

On Sept. 27, 2020, agents cited Barley House with knowingly allowing or engaging in disorderly activities with regard to the state's coronavirus guidelines for restaurants and bars. Following a Browns game, state agents found a packed bar with no distancing efforts. The commission issued a 5-day license suspension or a $1,000 fine.

On Oct. 3, 2020, agents found that Barley was once again skirting or ignoring the state's rules, this time serving drinks after 11 p.m. despite Ohio's last-call cutoff. For this violation of statewide pandemic rules, the commission issued a 20-day license suspension that, again, could be avoided, this time with a $6,000 fine.

The last one was the biggie.

The violation for Nov. 14 stemmed from a video taken inside Barley House that night showing a large crowd of unmasked patrons dancing, drinking and mingling with no distancing enforcement by staff. The video quickly went viral, both because of the scene it showed and because of what social media saw as evidence of the club's continued, flagrant flouting of safety guidelines. It led to the third state Covid violation charge, and, separately, drew a $9,000 fine from the city of Cleveland.

And from the state liquor commission, it drew an order to revoke Barley's liquor license effective March 24, 2021.

That's a step the commission has taken in only a handful of cases since the onset of the pandemic and the attendant orders given by the state department of health governing bars and restaurants. And it's not one they take lightly.

In many cases, the revocation order has come with the alternative of paying a hefty fine. That's exactly what happened to Medusa, a club in downtown Cleveland, in its hearing before the commission last week.

"The Commission issued a revocation, beginning at noon, February 24, 2021," because of a violation of Covid health protocols, "but gave the permit holder the option to pay a financial forfeiture in the amount of $7,500 in lieu of
the revocation."

That was not an option given to Barley House. The commission ordered its license be revoked as of March 24.

"As to the appropriate penalty in any given case, the Commission has broad authority," Sarah Creedon, the Executive Director of the Ohio Liquor Control Commission told Scene when asked for comment on the decision. "In terms of possible penalties, the Commission has the authority to issue a suspension and/or revocation, and in most cases, may allow the permit holder the opportunity to pay a financial forfeiture in lieu of serving the suspension and/or revocation. The Commission considers all relevant factors, including the nature of the violation, the seriousness of the offense, the facts of the case, the permit holder’s prior record, if any, as well as any other relevant information, including any mitigation evidence presented by the permit holder."

Barley House owner Bobby George, in a statement to Scene, said, "I will appeal and find a way to win, like I always do! This is what great people and great organizations do!

"In saying that I am extremely disappointed that the state is attacking its own. This is exactly why Ohio has a shrinking population. Leaders need to step up and serve, not use their power to hurt, especially during a time like this. If the State won’t look after my team, I will! I am looking forward to use this platform to show people what true leadership looks like."

Creedon told Scene the decision isn't up for negotiation with the department, and that the next step for the owner would be with the court.

"A permit holder has 21 days to appeal a Commission order to court. The appeal must be filed in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas," she said. "Any stay given to the permit holder during the pendency of an appeal would be granted by the court, not the Commission."

A few establishments have already been down this path, though their cases have not yet been resolved. Eleven have appealed the commission's ruling; four of them have been revocations.

The Highland Tavern in Akron was the first Ohio bar to have its license revoked by the commission, in September of last year, for coronavirus violations.

The bar asked for a stay from the court to remain open, appealed the commission's decision and, separately, filed a lawsuit in Franklin County contesting the state's ability to set public health rules for bars and restaurants during the pandemic and its ability to enforce them by revoking permits.

The stay was denied and the bar remains closed.

The appeal and the other lawsuit remain ongoing.

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