Liquor regulators fined Barry's Bar and Grill once again Wednesday and extended state oversight for the downtown Lincoln bar as punishment for over-serving a patron in January.
The iconic rooftop bar at Ninth and P streets had been on "thin ice," Nebraska Liquor Control commissioners said, after a string of similar violations in the last three years prompted state prosecutors to call for the cancellation of Barry's liquor license.
However, commissioners said the latest violation was already pending in April, when the bar made a host of changes at the commission's order to reduce over-consumption.
"We're not giving them better treatment," Chairman Bob Batt of Omaha said. "In my opinion, it's just not a cancellable offense."
The commission's decision to hand down a $500 fine (which Barry's can pay to avoid a five-day suspension) and extend the bar's probationary period for one year came after a June hearing in which attorneys for the bar's owner, Richmond Rollins LLC, took issue with what they believed was unfair enforcement.
At the hearing, Lincoln Police Officer David Burruss testified he went into the bar to do a tavern inspection Jan. 13 shortly before 12:30 a.m. when he saw a 21-year-old man at a booth with bottle service.
He noticed the man, who was talking loudly and flailing around, spill his beer on two women sitting next to him, so he continued watching that table, Burruss testified.
Then the man almost knocked over a pitcher as he reached down to pick up something he had dropped, so Burruss went over to talk to him, he said.
He led the man out of the bar, noticing that he stumbled and bumped into people as they walked out of the bar's crowded first floor.
Outside, he said, he saw the man had bloodshot eyes, smelled of alcohol and slurred his speech, so he asked the man to take a preliminary breath test, which registered 0.156 percent blood-alcohol content. The legal limit to drive is 0.08 percent.
The officer told the man to go home, and a friend came and picked him up, Burruss said.
Then the officer went and talked to the manager and ticketed the bar for over-serving.
During the hearing, the bar's manager, Kenneth Iverson, characterized the man as a boisterous cowboy who had been rough-housing with his friends at a birthday party, he said.
One of the bar's attorneys, Mike Kelley, said the breath test was low for someone of the man's size who had been recently drinking.
"We're not talking about driving a motor vehicle," Kelley said. "We're talking about having a good time at a birthday party."
Assistant Nebraska Attorney General Milissa Johnson-Wiles said the officer's observations about the man met the definition of an over-served patron under the commission's regulations, and Barry's should be held accountable.
Ultimately, the commission took the case under advisement to consider what to do in light of the previous case.
At the hearing, Commissioner Bruce Bailey of Lincoln said Barry's is the busiest bar in town and an important part of the city, and that the commission is attempting to get the bar to change its ways.
Barry's has ended bottle service, continued to supply the commission with advance notice of its promotions, changed how it monitors its patrons and increased its shot prices, commission officials said.
"We've given them just enough rope to hang themselves," Bailey said Wednesday.
Richmond Rollins and its attorneys didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.