Liquor Board Denies Crossbar Expansion; Crossbar to Open in Smaller Space

| June 28, 2013 | 7 Comments

photoAfter a three-and-a-half hour hearing, the Baltimore City Liquor Board came to a decision that Crossbar, planned for the former home of Turner’s/Billabong, would be denied an expansion from 12-14 E. Cross St. to 12-18 E. Cross St.  An unanimous decision from the board, led by Chairmen Steve Fogleman, determined that there was not a public need and desire for this expansion in the Federal Hill community.

Fogleman cited the unprecedented cohesion of five neighborhood groups, including Federal Hill Neighborhood Association,  Federal Hill South Neighborhood Association, Sharp-Leadenhall Improvement Committee, South Baltimore Neighborhood Association and Otterbein, protesting the expansion, as well as opposition by the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance and Councilman William Cole, as the reason for the decision.

“We are satisfied with the liquor board’s decision, but the following day we still have the same issues. We need to find a way to work together as a community to solve these problems,” FHNA President Eric Costello told SouthBMore.com.

Witnesses opposing the expansion spoke regarding their concerns about a dangerous environment around Cross St., public urination and vomiting, over-saturated parking inventory, excessive noise spilling out into the community and a lack of balance in the community between retail and bars. More than 50 area residents and business owners attended the hearing to support the opposition. Letters of opposition and a petition with approximately 450 signatures opposing the expansion were submitted.

Represented by attorney Dusky Holman, Crossbar presented renderings and menus and aimed to show the board that they would indeed be an upscale restaurant that could attract families and an older crowd.  Holman brought up that Crossbar would be something truly unique to Baltimore and a restaurant – something the community stated in a recent survey they were looking for more of.  Crossbar presented letters of support and a petition with more than 700 signatures.

Senator Bill Ferguson advised that the board should reject an expansion unless Crossbar and the community organizations have come to a fair agreement as to the specific conditions for maintaining community standard through a signed Memorandum of Understanding.  The groups met on Tuesday and were unable to come to an agreement.

Brian McComas, a partner in Crossbar, told SouthBMore.com that the agreement broke down over the idea of ending pub crawls in the area. “As president of the Federal Hill Hospitality Association, I can not agree to something that unilaterally affects the membership,” said McComas (FHHA is a group representing many bars and restaurants around Cross St.)

“The negotiaions weren’t close, we were at an impasse major in scope,”  said Costello.

Representing the opposition, attorney Brooke Lierman made a motion that the liquor license should be dismissed because it had not been used for more than 683 days. However, that motion was dismissed at the beginning and closing of the hearing because of appropriate renewals and communication with the board by the owners of the license.

McComas told SouthBMore.com that plans are moving immediately forward for Crossbar at 12-14 E. Cross St. “The plans were  designed to be modified to just 12 and 14 E. Cross if needed.  The sad part is that instead of a full blown restaurant, it was hampered enough that it may only be a bar.”

Crossbar will be appealing the decision of the board.

About the Author:

Creator of SouthBmore.com and resident of SoBo. Graduate of Towson University and owner of Incept Multimedia, a full service video production company. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, beach volleyball enthusiast, dog lover and "bar food" foodie. Email me at [email protected] and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.
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  • bmoreguy

    The fact that he won’t end the bar crawls and will build the bar before the restaurant shows us exactly what he cares about. I’m dissappointed he isn’t interested in taking the criticism of the cheap beer scene more seriously. The bar crawls make his and every other business in the neighborhood look ridiculous.

    • King in the North

      Hey, it’s my bud from reddit, we should find more social media portals to discuss our feelings on Federal Hill!

      Anyway, I didn’t realize it came down to the pub crawls. Honestly, as a next door neighbor to cross street, and someone who enjoys the bars and restaurants, I don’t like the pub crawls. Maybe one or two a year. I don’t mind St. Patricks and/or Cinco De Mayo.

      McComas needs to talk to his FHHA buddies and they need to work this out with the FHNA and liquor board. I would like to see the biergarten happen, but compromise and solutions are what gets things done, not political squabbling and stonewalling.

      • bmoreguy

        Haha! It looks like he is going to forgo the restaurant and keep the plans to build the bar instead. I think the restaurant part of his plans was a guise to try to get people excited that a new one was coming to the neighborhood.

  • soboresident

    With the smaller space he is being limited to (although he had to know this was a possible outcome going in), a bar is the only sensible solution. A restaurant confined to that limited space would not be worth the investment (both time and money), so he is looking at the higher margins that a bar provides. It seems quite obvious that given the larger space he would be happy to focus on higher end specialty beers (i.e. older, less obnoxious drinkers) and German-style food. Its a pretty simple formula, you are confined to half the space, thus half the seats and half the revenue, you focus on the items that generate twice the margins (booze) to hit your goal. If you are able to double the number of seats you can focus on lower margin items (food) and still hit your target. As far as cheap beer, it seems pretty clear he is focused on German beers; and, even Becks or St. Pauli Girl would not be considered cheap, let alone the thousands of more regional German brews.

    Regarding the bar crawls; it mentions that he did not feel like he was in a position to act unilaterally on behalf on an entire organization. He is not, and should not, make a decision based on his best interests that impacts an entire group of businesses and restaurants in the neighborhood just because he is a member of that group. If the five neighborhood groups decided to address the bar crawl issue with the FHHA in an organized meeting that would be a more suitable forum for that discussion. Using the expanded liquor license as a way to get something accomplished without having to address the entirety of constituents it would effect was something I thought to be reserved for our national politicians. Then again, I guess even they have to learn that behavior somewhere.

    I don’t disagree with calls to end the bar crawls (or limit them). The partying on Friday and Saturday nights is getting to be absurd, I would agree with that. But I think there is a major lack of understanding on each side and a refusal to really listen to and try and understand each other. On the one side, the neighborhood associations are labeling this a Megabar and not really trying to understand the real concept behind a Beer Garden which is more a “relaxing and hanging out with friends” type of atmosphere than a “pound beers and shots and try to get laid” atmosphere that fuels the behaviors and problems the neighborhood associations are justifiably upset with and want put to an end. Perhaps the CrossBar group can do more to help curtail the debauchery that goes on every weekend or take further steps to show how a beer garden like this might calm the neighborhood and not add to the booze fueled mayhem that goes on every weekend. As it stands right now, there are 4 hideous abandoned buildings in what is one of the prime locations in the entire city. Surely there is room for compromise that results in a win-win situation that brings a new business to the street without adding to, and hopefully even doing something to lower, the number of drunken people stumbling around causing problems every weekend.

    • King in the North

      I completely agree with every point you made and it pretty much echoes what I have been saying. Thanks for articulating your points. As with most things, compromise and pragmatic solutions are the way to get things done.

    • bmoreguy

      I completely understand with everything you are saying but he is the president of the FHHA. He is the leader of the organization that promotes the debauchery that occurs as a result of these bar crawls. He can do something about it because he helped get things to the point they are at now.
      All of the bars in the neighborhood (including his own) have excellent selections of beers that go beyond Miller/Bud Light. There was never a doubt that the Biergarten wouldn’t have an excellent selection of beers and could be a community gem – by day. The St. Patricks Day bar crawl that the FHHA sponsors is the absolute worst showing of the neighborhood. 20 different bars all selling the same cheap $2 beers and $5 shots has produced nothing more than a giant mess and a tarnished reputation for Federal Hill. It was time for somebody to say that enough was enough. I hope the pressure continues to mount for the FHHA to do improve how they market the bars in the neighborhood and actually work to bring more quality restaurants to the neighborhood instead of more mega bars disguised as restaurants.

  • McComassucks

    Pub Crawls? He is grasping! McComas is such a dishonest business person. I would not trust him for an instant. He’s a creep.