State regulators have spared Barry's Bar and Grill in the Haymarket from being closed after finding the bar guilty of repeated liquor license violations in recent years.
Instead, Barry's may pay a $5,000 fine to avoid a 50-day suspension. The Nebraska Liquor Control Commission also ordered the bar to cease bottle service, notify the commission one month in advance of its promotions, and provide a plan to reduce overservice at the bar, 235 N. Ninth St.
"If you think you're getting off light, you're not. I could cancel it (the liquor license) but that would be the easy way," said commission Chairman Bob Batt of Omaha.
Commissioners voted 2-0 Wednesday to find Barry's owners guilty of overserving one patron Sept. 23, the day of the Nebraska-Rutgers football game. Bruce Bailey of Lincoln was the other commissioner who voted. The third commissioner, Janice Wiebusch of Kearney, did not vote because she was not present for the original hearing.
An attorney for Barry's, Mike Kelley of Omaha, said he believes the punishment is fair but disputed the guilty finding and said the bar is considering an appeal.
Assistant Nebraska Attorney General Milissa Johnson-Wiles implored commissioners to cancel the bar's liquor license after they found Barry's guilty. That punishment is recommended by the commission's penalty guidelines after the bar's fourth violation in four years.
Richmond Rollins LLC, which owns the bar, had failed to appreciate the role of a liquor license holder, and its record of violations showed that, Johnson-Wiles said.
At a contentious hearing in March, Kevin Fitzpatrick of Richmond Rollins passed blame onto drinkers, saying the bar had done all it could to prevent overservice.
Johnson-Wiles on Wednesday took issue with that attitude and said a college town like Lincoln deserves a bar that takes its liquor-serving responsibilities seriously.
"It's time for Barry's in Lincoln to have a new owner or certainly be given a message," she said, adding cancellation was the only way to go.
But Kelley criticized her prosecution of the case, describing it as narrow enforcement outside the intention of the law and built on flimsy evidence.
A Lincoln police officer testified during the hearing that he had observed a man who could barely walk holding a drink inside the bar the night of Sept. 23. He brought the man outside and observed a "high level of intoxication."
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After the hearing, Kelley said Barry's staff barely had time to notice the man, who had just stood up and stumbled in the crowded bar.
Though Batt said last fall the bar was "on thin ice," he said Wednesday the punishment fits the crime.
He questioned whether the Kansas City-based company would have handled things differently if it was based in Lincoln. Batt also said bottle service promotes excessive drinking among the young crowd that Barry's serves.
Bottle service is the sale of liquor by the bottle. It typically includes a reserved table for the buyer.
A bar manager told commissioners Barry's had already ended bottle service, but as of Wednesday, its website still advertised bottle service, with a la carte bottles starting at $100 and packages at $200.
Kelley said he didn't think the bar was getting special treatment, given the strings attached to the commission's ruling.
On social media, Duffy’s Tavern called the commission’s ruling shameful and characterized the fine as “less than a day of revenue.”
Batt and Bailey want the bar, whose 90 employees are college students, to send the promotions it's advertising on social media to the commission for review a month in advance.
Hobert Rupe, the commission's executive director, said promotions for double shots — which the bar advertised for Fat Tuesday — may feed into the problem the commissioners want to correct.
These restrictions are reasonable, Kelley said, and the owners have spent "hundreds of thousands of dollars" to comply with the state's liquor laws.
But Kelley said if the goal is for cops to catch drunk people in Lincoln bars on gamedays, then Barry's isn't the only guilty party.
"Based on that, we could close every bar in Lincoln, because I'll find you something," Kelley said. "Deputize me, and I'll find you as many as they want."