A popular North Shore restaurant and bar is looking at a steep fine or three-day suspension for violations to the city's beer ordinance.
Mike's Hole in the Wall was handed a $1,750 fine or suspension by the city's Beer and Wrecker Board Thursday for an incident on Thursday, July 26, when officers responded to the restaurant and arrested two minors for underage drinking and saw people doing keg stands in the parking lot, according to statements.
One of the minors arrested was outside the bar, at 525 Cherokee Blvd., and taken into custody by another officer but no details were given on that minor's arrest. Chattanooga Police Officer Jeff Buckner was at the board meeting and said he found a 20-year-old drinking inside the bar that night, too. Buckner said he took the beer from the minor, but the minor went and got another beer, which led to his arrest.
The 20-year-old allegedly told Buckner that security never asked him for his ID before he walked in, but video provided by Mike's Hole in the Wall shows a different story.
The video shows the minor stopped outside of the restaurant's front door and it appears he is showing an ID to a security guard. John McClellan, owner of Mike's Hole in the Wall, and his lawyer said they believe it was a fake ID that their guard was not able to catch.
Buckner said they didn't recover a fake ID from the minor when they took him into custody, but they did find his Tennesse license that states he is under 21.
"We routinely reject somewhere between five to seven people on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday night because of fake IDs," McClellan said to the board. "I believe we are very diligent about this and it's turning out to be a very pervasive problem."
The owner said that he has bought a new, "expensive" ID scanner since the incident that will help detect bad IDs, and all employees will also receive a training from someone at the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Despite that, board members still issued a $1,500 fine, or the option for a three-day suspension for Thursday, Aug. 23 to Saturday, Aug. 26.
Calandra Smith, program coordinator with the Hamilton County Coalition, provides responsible server training for establishments, and she said that fake IDs are becoming more and more sophisticated and it's becoming an issue for restaurant owners.
"There has always been the use of fake IDs, but now they (minors) are ordering them online and getting IDs that go through scanners," she said.
Smith said it sounds like Mike's Hole in the Wall has taken all the right steps to protect themselves, and the scanner that McClellan has purchased will catch 99 percent of bad IDs.
"I hate that owners have to take that responsibility on," she said. "If you check the ID and make sure they are not under 21 then that should be your only responsibility."
To add to the confusion, the state of Tennessee has recently decided to make the change to vertical licenses for people under 21. Right now, both people older and under 21 have a horizontal license.
While this might make things easier in the long run for servers, initally there will be some minors that have a horizontal license and others that have switched to the vertical ones. Tennessee is the 48th state to adopt vertical licenses.
The beer board members also heard another violation for the bar that alleged they were serving beer off premise. While Officer Buckner was inside, he said other officers went to the area outside of the restaurant that was thought to be in the parking lot where they said people were doing keg stands. Buckner said he never saw anyone do a keg stand, but he saw the keg in a trash can outside the restaurant.
The city's beer ordinance states that beer can only be served on the premise of the business with the permit. There was a question as to whether or not the area outside of the restaurant and not within the gated patio area was still considered a part of the premise. The area is not used for parking.
Restaurant officials said the beer permit does not clearly state the definition for "premise." The business just moved into the new location off Cherokee Boulevard a few months ago.
"The citation said we were serving beer outside the premise, and there is no clear definition of premise," said a lawyer for the restaurant.
McClellan said they did provide the keg for the special event outside of the restaurant, though. He said that they are planning to make that area part of the parking lot, so there would not be an issue again with alcohol being served there.
Board members still voted to issue a $250 or one-day suspension that could be served concurrently with the other three-day suspension if the restaurant chooses. Restaurant officials could not be reached Thursday afternoon and it is not known whether they plan to pay the fine or suspend alcohol sales for three days.
Contact staff writer Allison Shirk at firstname.lastname@example.org, @Allison_Shirk or 423-757-6651.