Liquor board hearings can often get heated, but Thursday’s took an unusually contentious turn as Baltimore’s Board of Liquor License Commissioners gave two separate new businesses the right to sell alcohol in Fells Point over the vocal objections of residents.

The hearing turned the spotlight on one of the city’s largest and well-connected restaurant groups, Atlas, which is planning to expand its already sizable footprint in the neighborhood with a new concept at 1704 Thames St.

Another group of residents came to speak out against a liquor license for bakery Sacré Sucré, which opened in the neighborhood four months ago in a site formerly occupied by the Dead End Saloon.

Fells Point is “an alcohol-fueled neighborhood now,” said resident Jimette Thanos, who was there to protest potential changes at the 933 Fell St. bakery. “It’s lawless. … The only one who pays the price are the residents.”

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In both situations, Fells Point neighbors had signed petitions urging the liquor board to rule against the licenses. Under Maryland law, if more than half of the property owners within 200 feet of an establishment do so, the liquor board must deny the application. But neither group got the signatures they needed, said board chair Albert Matricciani.

Though residents regularly protest liquor licenses for establishments, it’s rare for such a petition to go before the board; the last time it happened was 15 years ago, said community liaison Matt Achhammer. And it’s rarer still for two to go before the board at once.


The back-and-forth over the unnamed Atlas concept on Thames Street began well ahead of Thursday’s hearing in a series of letters submitted to the city’s liquor board.

Lancaster Street resident Jeanne Nevin wrote that “nearby neighbors do not trust Atlas and believe they ‘make up rules’ concerning their properties, which, unfortunately surround us.” Neighbor Eben Hansel wrote that he wanted to see an MOU, or memorandum of understanding, in place before Atlas was allowed to transfer a liquor license to the address.

Meanwhile, Anastasia Thomas Nardangeli, a lawyer for Atlas, suggested that the opposition to the new restaurant was coordinated “by a business competitor and/or someone who may have a personal vendetta.”

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The arguments spilled into the hearing, where Atlas Restaurant Group co-founder Alex Smith complained that his restaurants had faced “harassment” from politically connected people in the community. Smith is the nephew of Sinclair Broadcast Group Executive Chairman David Smith, who also owns The Baltimore Sun.

At the heart of the disagreement between Atlas and the neighbors are the company’s plans to add outdoor table service in the courtyard next to 1704 Thames St., which is also connected to the Atlas-owned Waterfront Hotel. Hansel wrote that the area “has the potential to become a large outdoor bar/party space that would have severe adverse effects” on the community.

After conversations with Atlas on the topic failed to go anywhere, residents began to organize a petition to oppose a liquor license for the address.

That’s when residents began to receive threatening letters from Atlas attorneys saying they would take legal action against them, according to attorney Amy Petkovsek of the Community Law Center, which is taking up the issue for neighbors.

The outdoor space is not included in the liquor license approved Thursday, and Matricciani said any alleged intimidation of residents fell outside the scope of the hearing.

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Petkovsek called that “a dangerous precedent for the city.”

Maryland Comptroller Brooke Lierman, who is married to Hansel, was also at the hearing. She declined to comment.

Sacré Sucré

The liquor board also voted to approve a license with Sacré Sucré, though Matricciani said the business must continue negotiations with its neighbors — about a dozen of whom showed up to protest — to “assuage concerns.” Both parties will be required to return within 60 days to share progress on reaching an agreement on an MOU.

The meeting capped off months of tension between the business and nearby residents, who had been opposed to the selling of liquor on their street despite bakery owners Dane Thibodeaux and Manuel Sanchez’s concerns that it was a critical expansion for their business.

Thibodeaux and Sanchez invested more than $2 million into their new building, according to their attorney Melvin Kodenski. But ongoing community opposition and delays to open their 138-seat eatery strained them financially. Making craft cocktails and other alcoholic beverages was an attractive way to bolster sales, Sanchez said in a previous Banner interview.

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Customers had been requesting the option to enjoy a craft cocktail or glass of champagne with their pastry, Thibodeaux said at the hearing. Beth Hawks of Zelda’s Zen, which operates a few blocks away on Thames Street, testified that Thibodeaux’s goal of adding alcoholic beverages was a way to “enhance the neighborhood.”

The Sacré Sucré owners worried the neighbors’ proposed restrictions on hours and the space’s use, including a measure that would ban the bakery from using one of its two entryways, would hamper business. But the residents feared that without an agreement with the community, the bakery would bring the drunken rancor of Thames Street, only a few feet away, onto their block.

Property manager Josh Adlin, of the bakery’s previous Fleet Street location, said Sacré Sucré had a history of disturbing their neighbors. He told the board a former tenant had complained of exhaust from the bakery’s oven affecting his health, but Matricciani did not appear concerned since the bakery owns the property on Fell Street and is not a tenant.

Other neighbors complained of the possibility that Sacré Sucré could use their second floor to host parties. But since the license only allows for liquor sales on the first floor, Matricciani dismissed the concerns, opting to remind the bakery owners that their license could be revoked if they violate the board’s rules.

Residents also argued the size of the business was twice that of the prior tenants in the building, Dead End Saloon and Lucky Buns. Next-door neighbor Nicolas Jabko told the board that while he was fine with Sacré Sucré’s current status, he feared “what they could become” without restrictions on their hours or ability to expand liquor sales.

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Matricciani seemed skeptical, given that there is a plethora of nearby bars and restaurants in the area where drunken patrons seemed more likely to frequent.

“If I’m in Fells Point and I want to drink alcohol,” Matricciani said wrly, “I go to a bakery?”