Blue Light club on Chattanooga's Station Street called a 'powder keg ready to go off'

New venue racks up 6 violations, prompts Coyote Jacks comparison

Staff file photo / Station Street is shown on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Three-and-a-half hours wasn't enough time for the Chattanooga Beer and Wrecker Board to hear six violations related to the Blue Light, a new club that police say is "a time bomb waiting to go off" and could be the next Coyote Jacks, a now-closed nightclub that was the scene of several shootings.

Blue Light is in the Chattanooga Choo Choo complex on Station Street in the space that formerly housed Revelry Room and Songbirds South. Its patio space adjoins the Comedy Catch and its Backstage Bar. Several other restaurants - Stir, Frothy Monkey, Regan's Place and Westbound Bar - are nearby.

Because the city's court reporter had a prior engagement, the meeting, which started a little after 9 a.m., was terminated around 12:30 p.m., and the final two Blue Light violations were moved to the next meeting on Nov. 18. Before that, the bar, which is co-owned by WGOW-FM 102.3 radio host Brian Joyce, was punished for four violations occurring in September and October.

Each case was heard separately and resulted in a three-day suspension or a $1,000 fine, with the suspension to run from Nov. 19-21, a letter of reprimand, a five-day suspension to run Nov. 26-28 and two three-day suspensions to run Dec. 3-5 and Dec. 10-12.

Regarding the first case, the bar must also have all of its employees, including Joyce and co-owner Joseph Bruns, complete within 30 days the city's new certification class for selling beer. That's on top of already being required to get certified by the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission, a requirement for establishments selling liquor.

Joyce told the board he had not taken either class yet because the law gives him 90 days, which doesn't expire until the end of this month.

The yet-to-be heard cases stem from several incidents involving police being called to the establishment on at least four occasions on Halloween night, according to Chattanooga Police Officer Luke Simon. He noticed what he identified as men dressed in known gang colors displaying gang signs and he then witnessed a fight that made its way up and down the street and on the patio outside Blue Light and Backstage.

(READ MORE: Property owners terminate Coyote Jack's lease; city asks judge to shutter club after third fatal shooting)

Police later arrested two men and found two guns in their possession.

Simon said he worked five shooting incidents at Coyote Jacks, which was on Cowart Street, a few blocks away. Based on his experience, Blue Light seems to be moving in the same negative direction, Simon said.

He said it did not appear to fall entirely on the owners or the security, but rather the clientele. Board member Cynthia Coleman asked if he felt like it was a "powder keg ready to go off." He replied, "In my experience, absolutely. I was shot at, at Coyote Jacks, and watching the increase in gang activity is what concerns me.

"I'm not saying it is their fault. It's the hip-hop atmosphere, and it will get beyond your control."

The board did not get to hear the full report on the Halloween night incident, and Joyce had only a few minutes to respond, so members decided out of fairness to table the case for two weeks. It did hear and vote on four cases before adjourning.

On Sept. 5, Officer Ryan Lynn of the DUI unit stopped by the venue and said he determined that Bruns appeared to be intoxicated, a violation of the city's beer code, which forbids any member of the staff from drinking on site or being inebriated on the premises.

(READ MORE: 'The parking lot holds my brother's blood'; fatal shootings at Coyote Jack's spur community discourse, city inquiry)

He gave Bruns, who was manager on duty and working the door that night, as well as Joyce and the rest of the staff a breathalyzer test. He said Bruns blew a .09, (for context, state law says a driver is impaired at .08) while Joyce, who admitted to drinking the day before but not that day, blew .009. The other staff members blew .000, Lynn said.

Joyce said Bruns' role in the business has been shifted to off-site bookkeeping and business-related duties and that he has reiterated to the staff that drinking on the premises or being intoxicated on site is not permitted at any time, whether on or off the clock. This is a city code that has been on the books for decades.

The second violation found that Blue Light was selling beer and Jell-O shots from a pushcart on Station Street on Oct. 1.

Station Street allows for on-street alcohol sales and consumption only with a special permit that also includes closing the street to automobile traffic. Also, the alcohol must be served in a plastic cup emblazoned with the words Station Street. The beer was in Station Street cups, but the Jell-O shots were not, Joyce said.

He told the board this was the second time the business had sold from the cart and that, two weeks prior, Lynn had told him he wasn't sure of the regulation. Lynn said he allowed sales to continue that night but later learned it was not legal without a street closure and permit, which Simon informed Joyce of on Oct. 1.

The board voted to give Blue Light a written reprimand to be put in its file.

The third violation involved a large crowd that had gathered outside the club and became unruly. Lynn said he responded and recommended to Joyce that the club close at 2 a.m., an hour earlier than normal. Joyce agreed and closed the club.

Lynn said he and other officers helped "literally throw people out" and helped to break up fights.

"At that point, you can't figure out which guy poked the bear first. It was like an all-out brawl. I don't know if it was a full moon or what. Plus, every drunk friend wanted to come up and talk, and they just get in the way. Everybody has a story."

The board hit Blue Light with a five-day suspension to run Friday, Nov. 26, through Tuesday, Nov. 30, even though the club is only open Friday through Sunday.

The fourth violation on Oct. 17 was for a member of the staff selling beer in glass bottles to customers waiting in line on Station Street to get into the club. The board voted to suspend the club's beer license for two consecutive weekends or a total of six days, Dec. 3-5 and Dec. 10-12.

During the meeting, attorney Michael Mallen spoke "as a private citizen" to tell the board that he was part of former Mayor Andy Berke's Chattanooga Forward committee that looked into ways to improve entertainment in the city. One of those ways was to create an atmosphere similar to Beale Street in Memphis with events that might include open containers and alcohol for adults.

"We had no intention for something to go badly wrong," he said. 'This kind of venue [Station Street] is important, but it has to be maintained and managed and safe."

Michael Alfano moved the Comedy Catch from Brainerd Road to Station Street but said he now worries for his customers, his staff, his business and his family. He said he is closing early on weekends and escorting patrons to their cars because of the unruly activity on Station Street.

"It's becoming another Coyote Jacks, and [I don't think] the city wants to go down that road again," he said. "Everything was going great for five years, and it has gone down in five months."

"I never thought I would hear Station Street brought up in the same conversation as Bloods and Crips."

Joyce disputed that it is only his club bringing in an undesirable element to Station Street. He said that he has been working with new landlords Northpond Partners and his security team to make sure customers are safe.

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.