It’s a favorite spot to grab a drink, have dinner and people-watch for Baltimore’s urban professional set, but on April 30, if not sooner, the Museum Restaurant and Lounge will serve its last drink. The owners were denied renewal of the facility’s liquor license during a Baltimore City Liquor Board hearing on April 18 after a homeowners group in the vicinity of the restaurant complained about live entertainment playing there.
The venue will serve its last drink on April 30, according to Douglas Paige, spokesperson for the Baltimore City Liquor Board.
“It’s not the worse bar to come down to the liquor board,” said liquor board Chairman Stephen W. Foogleman. “The community clearly had a stake, and a say, and a claim last year that they wanted a restaurant there. They don’t want a bar there.”
The Museum, located at 924 N. Charles Street in the Mt. Vernon community, was formerly the home of the Brass Elephant, a highly praised restaurant that remained in business for more than 20 years. The Brass Elephant changed management in May 2012 and became the Museum. It had not been in business for six weeks before some local residents began to complain that it was operating as a “club,” though it was not licensed for live entertainment, an official said.
Fierce debated marked the three-hour hearing, in which 10 witnesses were scheduled to testify. The restaurant, considered by many to be the latest go-to eatery and lounge for young, urban professionals, drew fire from the leadership of the Mt. Vernon-Belvedere Neighborhood Association, who claimed that the Museum created noise and massive loitering. The group complained that the lounge frequently provided live entertainment, though it operated under a Class B restaurant license.
Deborah Morrison, who has lived in an apartment that shared a common wall with the establishment for 13 years—first with the Brass Elephant and then the Museum—said she broke her lease in December 2012 after what she called a “nightmare.” She said she never went to the restaurant/lounge.
“I had to endure a nightmare living there, with loud music at 2 a.m., so loud I could hear the words to the songs,” said Morrison. “The bass shook the apartment. My bed would shake from the vibrations while I tried to sleep at night… I got a white noise machine and fans. I was forced to move because I could not live next to it anymore.”
Morrison played for the three-member board audio recordings she made where a man she identified as a deejay could be heard talking and playing music. She said she made numerous 3-1-1 calls and spoke to the neighborhood association about the noise levels.
George Panos, president of Thornhill Properties, who owns the apartment unit occupied by Morrison, and units occupied by three other tenants on the second and third floors in the building, said he has lost $12,000 from the early departure of Morrison and stands to lose as much as $60,000 if his other tenants move out. He said tenants have threatened to move because of the noise.
“I would not have invested in this building…if it was going to be next to a nightclub,” he said.
But the Museum’s manager, Walter Webb, said the lounge does not provide live music. He said the restaurant plays music from Pandora’s Box with pre-recorded deejay tracks to create a lounge atmosphere for its clientele. He said he spent more than $42,000 in state-of-the-art audio equipment that is designed to provide a quality sound without over-the-top bass.
He said the health department came out twice to measure the sound level and both times found the noise levels within an acceptable range. The attorney who represented the Museum at the hearing, Leanne M. Schrecengost, did not return three telephone calls or respond to emails.
Paige said that while the Museum did get permission to have live entertainment from the Baltimore City Zoning Board, the owners and management failed to follow through to get permission from the liquor board. He said once the liquor license expires, the liquor board would have no jurisdiction. Any additional concerns would be handled by the city zoning board and the health department.
“We will no longer have enforcement,” Paige said.
The liquor board took more than 50 signatures into evidence from residents in the neighborhood urging the members to deny the renewal of the license. Nearly 270 signatures from supporters of the venue, including local residents and patrons, were also submitted.
Paige said no action can take place for 10 days after the trial. The lounge’s owners and management can appeal the finding from the 10th to 40th day after the trial to the Circuit Court of Baltimore City.
The finding does not preclude the restaurant from continuing, but no alcohol—not even beer and wine—can be served, Paige said. The Museum is known for its downtown vibe and Happy Hour, featuring reduced-price drinks.
Frequent patron A.J. Foster, 25, an Ashburton resident and a board member of the Kappa Alpha Psi Foundation of Metropolitan Baltimore, said he had no idea the Museum was facing the loss of its liquor license. He said his organization hosted its second monthly happy hour fundraiser there on April 17.
“I was really taken by surprise when I found out that the Museum was in that situation,” he said. “I feel the Museum is unlike any other venue Baltimore has to offer the young professional crowd.”