Service to two gameday drinkers last fall at Barry's Bar and Grill in the Haymarket have put the tavern's liquor license in jeopardy.
Assistant Nebraska Attorney General Milissa Johnson-Wiles said she would seek to cancel the license if the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission finds the bar owners guilty of selling to an intoxicated person.
Following a contentious hearing Wednesday, the three liquor commissioners said they needed more time to determine whether bar staff overserved two patrons Sept. 23, the day of the Nebraska-Rutgers football game.
"The evidence is this is the top bar in the state," Barry's attorney Mike Kelley said, trying to convince the commissioners the case was weak and the bar — which serves upward of 5,500 people on a Husker gameday — has ample security in place.
But Johnson-Wiles disagreed.
"They talk a good talk, but they don't walk a good walk," she said.
The first drinker at the center of the case was spotted by a Lincoln police officer during a tavern check that night at about 10 p.m.
Officer Phillip Tran testified he saw the 21-year-old stumbling around inside the packed bar, almost falling as he walked.
He had an alcoholic drink in his hand, slurred his words and smelled of booze, so the officer took him outside, where he struggled to use his phone, Tran said.
The man showed "a high level of intoxication," the officer said.
Ultimately, the man's friends found him and called a ride-sharing service to take him home, Tran said.
While Tran was talking to that man, a second man showed up near the entrance, too drunk to use his phone. He was taken to detox, according to a police report.
That man, 25, testified Wednesday that he went to Barry's at about 8 p.m. after drinking elsewhere downtown before, during and after the NU football game.
At Barry's, he said, he ordered at least five vodka-waters before he remembers being approached by the officer.
A bar manager, Kenneth Iverson, disputed the man's testimony, saying staff had denied him entry because he appeared too intoxicated. But on cross-examination, Iverson said it was possible the man had previously entered the bar at another entrance.
Neither Iverson nor another bartender said they saw the 21-year-old drinking.
The hearing came seven months after the liquor commission slapped Barry's with an $8,000 fine for selling a drunk 19-year-old a bottle of Captain Morgan last April.
That case put Barry's on "thin ice," commission officials told owner Richmond Rollins LLC, which racked up three violations for selling to an intoxicated person in the past four years.
A fourth offense for selling to an intoxicated person carries the possibility of cancellation, according to commission punishment guidelines.
Richmond Rollins is based in Mission Hills, Kansas, and has owned the iconic bar since 2012.
At a previous hearing, its owners told the commission they had increased training and added security.
Kevin Fitzpatrick, managing partner at Richmond Rollins, said this isn't a recurring problem at the company's other bars in Indiana and Missouri.
In those states, he said, drinkers who overindulge can be arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct. But here, some drinkers who are taken to detox act like it's a badge of honor.
Fitzpatrick said he would lobby for Nebraska to adopt laws similar to those in Indiana and Missouri.
"I don't know what I can do differently here," he said.
The commission is expected to announce its decision and any possible punishment at its meeting next month.