Local bars fined for serving minors

Published 10:42 am Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Two Austin bars have been ordered to pay fines and close for three consecutive days after serving alcohol to minors twice in two years.

Bobee Jo’s, on 10th Street Northeast, and Bakery Lounge II, on Second Avenue Northeast, sold beer to a minor working for the Austin Police Department during compliance checks Oct. 3, officer Mark Walski reported.

Walski, Police Chief Paul Philipp and the bar owners went before the Austin City Council Monday for public hearings.

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The officer worked with a 19-year-old female, a law enforcement student in Rochester, to test whether nine establishments in Austin would sell beer to underage customers.

Philipp explained the annual compliance checks are a “very regulated and very important issue to the city of Austin.”

The individual chosen to conduct the checks is not allowed to be “deceptive;” he or she must present the correct identification when asked at an establishment.

“It’s not a game here where we are trying to trick or deceive the license holders,” the chief said.

The night of Oct. 3, the minor female attempted to buy beer in nine businesses that hold licenses. After Bakery Lounge II and Bobee Jo’s sold beer to the subject without checking for an I.D., she and the officer later returned so she could identify the seller for the officer and confront them.

The purpose of waiting until later in the night to re-enter the bars is so their staff does not notify other establishments checks are coming, Philipp said.

He also explained that “buyers” are difficult to find.

Both bars were ordered to each pay $750 within 10 days and close for three consecutive business days within the next 30 days.

Their first violation in the past 24 months was June 30, 2007.

Bakery owner Ron Carr asked why when he went to the courthouse four days later after the check, information about the violation was not available.

The chief said he was not sure why the information was not on hand at the time, but he could ask for the report now and receive a copy, adding, “It doesn’t change the facts of the situation.”

Dick Lang, co-owner of Bobee Jo’s and a county commissioner, said during the first violation in 2007, he had asked the doorperson to leave for the night; the second time, the bartender reportedly thought she knew the “buyer.” He said fining bars and ordering them to close is not the answer.

“I believe that this is a problem,” Lang said. “They don’t want to be closed and they don’t want their names tarnished.”

Council member John Martin asked Lang if he has ever contacted a state legislator.

“I don’t get to see my legislators; they never come around,” he insisted. “You’re my governing body – I come to you.”

Carr requested he be allowed exception to the deadline and fulfill the penalty in the spring, after pool and dart leagues – what he called his “bread and butter” – are done for the season.

The council denied his request. Penalties will remain as ordered for both businesses.