Coyote Jack's beer sales suspended after two people leave incredibly drunk

Mayor's uncle says cops target Coyote Jack's

Ronnie Berke (center), co-owner of Coyote Jack's Saloon, speaks to the Chattanooga Beer Board Thursday morning flanked by Officer John Collins (left) and the saloon's general manager George Gainey (right).

Attorney Ronnie Berke, who is Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's uncle and a partner in the family law firm Berke, Berke & Berke, thinks the police have targeted the popular Southside nightclub at 1400 Cowart St. he co-owns, Coyote Jack's Saloon.

"It appears that way," Ronnie Berke said Thursday morning after a hearing before the Chattanooga Beer Board.

The city board voted to suspend Coyote Jack's beer sales Sept. 21-Sept. 24 after police testified the bar had served two people who were so drunk they were incapacitated.

"This is probably the hottest bar in Chattanooga with the biggest crowd," police Officer John Collins said.

Collins told beer board members that around 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 5 a male customer was passed out and a female had to be carried out of Coyote Jack's and they had blood-alcohol levels of 0.20 percent and 0.21 percent - about three times the legal driving limit of 0.08 percent.

"Someone [that drunk] can't protect themselves, they can't make wise decisions," said Travis Patton, special agent for the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC).

Berke stood at the podium and questioned both lawmen.

He said that since the night of Aug. 5, police cars have "blocked off intersections" near Coyote Jack's and that "our customers had to take detours" and that "Ubers and taxis have not even been allowed to come to our bar."

Collins said he has nothing to do with traffic control near the bar, and offered to put Berke in contact with a supervisor.

Berke also asked the officers if they were sure the two people in question had been drinking at Coyote Jack's - or at another nearby bar.

Collins said employees of Coyote Jack's had said the two were inside.

City attorney Keith Reisman questioned George Gainey, the general manager of Coyote Jack's, who admitted that a number of the bar's security guards don't have licenses, as required.

Gainey also agreed when Reisman asked him if the guards kept intoxicated people from entering Coyote Jack's.

Beer Board member Lee Dear reasoned that since Coyote Jack's security doesn't let in drunk people, "therefore, if somebody comes out of your place drunk then that happened in your place."

After the meeting, Berke said he may appeal the beer board's decision in Hamilton County Chancery Court.

Coyote Jack's Saloon has had problems before.

Its beer sales were suspended from March 2-9 by the beer board after a Feb. 5 inspection found underage customers and that the club had let in 935 people - when the fire code said its capacity was 518.

In its previous incarnation as Bella Vita, which opened in January 2015, the club was the site of two shootings - one of which was fatal - before it closed in the summer of 2016. Coyote Jack's Saloon has the same owners as did Bella Vita: Ronnie Berke and Tammy Taylor.

"I do know that when I took this place over, it was a train wreck," Gainey told the beer board. "The only thing I can do is try to make it a better place than it was in the past."

In other business, the beer board came down hard on the Kangaroo/Circle K store at 3407 Amnicola Highway for selling to a minor during an Aug. 22 sting operation. Beer board members voted 5-0 to suspend the store's beer sales immediately because no one from the gas station came to Thursday's meeting. The suspension stays in effect until someone appears before the beer board.

The Terminal Brewhouse at 1464 Market St. got a choice from the beer board between a three-day suspension of beer sales or a $500 fine because a waitress sold beer to two minors during an Aug. 22 sting.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@times or www.face or on Twitter @meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.