Despite concerns raised by Baltimore Police and community members, the city’s liquor board voted at a hearing Thursday to renew the liquor license of Fayette Liquor Plus, where a 13-year-old girl was fatally shot last year in the parking lot. The business was one of four that had its application for liquor license renewal protested by residents. After hearing those objections, the board ultimately approved three renewals and deferred a decision on the fourth.

Fayette Liquor Plus

The board of liquor license commissioners, a state agency, justified the decision to renew Fayette Liquor Plus’ license on procedural grounds, saying resident objections were raised too late and a submitted protest didn’t meet the legal threshold for removing a license.

Residents said the East Baltimore liquor store located near Douglass Homes has contributed to problems in the community. The situation has “escalated dramatically in the last three years,” said Magdalena Fitzsimmons, who spoke on behalf of the residents protesting the business.

Rosalyn Victor, who lives nearby, said she frequently calls 911 after seeing people who have overdosed on drugs and “chased it with alcohol” purchased at Fayette Liquor Plus.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Baltimore Police Maj. Keira Saunders told commissioners that police have taken the first official steps to padlock the business, which would shut down its operations for a year. She said her officers had been approached by drug dealers inside the store and now keep a 24/7 patrol outside to monitor it and a nearby gas station.

“Why are we wasting city resources sending police there all day long?” Baltimore City councilman Robert Stokes asked at the hearing. “It’s not fair to the community.”

But ongoing police activity associated with the store “wasn’t reported to the liquor board,” said Albert Matricciani, chairman of the board. “We can’t violate them if we don’t hear about it.”

The store, represented by attorney Abraham Hurdle, had more than a dozen customers appear in support. Many said the owners should not be blamed for crime in the area.

Commissioners voted to renew the license of the establishment, but the store must comply with the police padlock protocol.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

After the hearing, Fitzsimmons called the board’s decision to renew “unreasonable.” Even after hearing from police about a litany of problems, commissioners “went ahead and renewed the license anyway,” she said.

There’s a high legal bar for removing a liquor license. If a protest from residents doesn’t follow the letter of the law, it probably won’t get far — particularly if a business has hired an attorney to poke holes in the protest.

But it’s not unheard of. In 2018, both Honey’s Lounge and B&O Café saw their liquor licenses revoked after resident protests. In 2019, Eric’s 500 had its license removed.

The Dish: Baltimore residents protest liquor license renewal of 4 businesses


Earlier in the hearing, liquor board officials seemed troubled by the testimony of residents in Mount Vernon protesting Sangria on North Charles Street.

Over the objections of Sangria’s attorney, Christopher Rizakos, a resident played security footage from her home that she said showed three separate instances of gunfire or fights outside the establishment at late hours.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The resident, Paula James Fernandes, said despite recent work travel to war-torn countries like Iraq, she felt more afraid for her life in Baltimore. She called Sangria a “hotbed of violence” that created an “atmosphere of fear and unease.”

Other residents, who were represented by attorney Stephan W. Fogleman, complained of a bait-and-switch; they said Sangria’s owners had pitched the concept as a restaurant to the community before pivoting to become what one called a nightclub without a menu on its website. They spoke of late operating hours and liberal interpretation of a clause in a memorandum of understanding — a good-faith agreement between a business and the surrounding community — that let Sangria stay open after-hours during special sporting events.

While Sangria is a Black-owned business with a largely Black clientele, most of the Mount Vernon residents protesting it appeared to be white. Appearing before the commissioners, Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby said the situation reflected Baltimore’s segregationist history and the over-enforcement of Black-owned businesses. Sangria is “probably” one of five establishments with the most 311 complaints in the city, said chief inspector John Chrissomallis.

“It appears that whenever anything happens … it’s pointed to and blamed on the establishment,” said Mosby, who called himself a longtime patron of Sangria.

Still, based on the testimony, Matricciani opted to defer the ruling for 10 days. “This is not a good operation right now,” he said of Sangria. “It’s got to get cleaned up.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

A tale of 2 Hampden restaurants with 1 liquor license and drama to spare

Mo’s Seafood

Attorneys for the establishments told commissioners their clients couldn’t be held responsible for Baltimore’s ills.

“I grew up in the city. It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Melvin Kodenski, an attorney for Mo’s Seafood. The Little Italy establishment appeared before the board for the second year in a row after facing protests from residents.

Last year, the board directed Mo’s owner Mohammad Manocheh to work with the community, but he refused to sign an MOU with them affirming his commitment to keeping a security guard on premises during business hours as well as other measures like keeping security cameras in working order.

After initially balking at such requirements, Tony Assadi, a representative for the restaurant, agreed to the terms on the record.

Call it an MOU without an MOU: In lieu of a written agreement, that verbal agreement will now be binding and attached to the business’ license, Matricciani said. If they are found in violation, they could be brought before the board again.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The board voted to renew the business’ liquor license.

Lithuanian Hall

By far the oldest establishment to go before the board was Lithuanian Hall, which has a liquor license that dates back to 1934. Residents complained chiefly of noise as well as loitering and trash from the hall, which is frequently rented out for special events.

But the board voted to renew the hall’s license on the condition that they renegotiate a 2009 MOU with the neighbors to solve the noise problem within 30 days.

The next step for the businesses is mediation with Matt Achhammer, a community liaison who works to smooth relations between liquor license holders and the communities that surround them.

The somewhat-recently created role is designed to cut down on back-and-forth at hearings. Nevertheless, Thursday’s hearing stretched on more than an hour past schedule.

More From The Banner