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Bar owner fears unfair loss of liquor license

Claire Heininger | Wednesday, September 22, 2004

As a twice-raided student bar faces today’s ruling on the renewal of its liquor license, its owner already anticipates defeat.Chuck Hammons, owner of The Library Irish Pub, also known as Finnegan’s, said he was being singled out unfairly by local authorities that choose to crack down on underage drinking instead of downtown violence.The St. Joseph County Alcoholic Beverage Board, which makes recommendations to the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, and city politicians “have a strong dislike for a college bar,” Hammons said.He claimed Library neighbor Benchwarmers Sports Lounge can “have bullets, shootings but no liquor violations” and still be renewed, while a student destination like his will likely be denied. The local board unanimously voted for Benchwarmers’ approval July 28, but Hammons doubted a similar fate for his 113 E. Wayne Street establishment.”I’d probably have a coronary or a stroke if they unanimously approve me,” he said. “It’s just my gut feeling.”The Board is scheduled to meet and vote on Hammons’ license at 10 a.m. today. After The Library suffered its second raid in less than a year April 16, ATC prosecutor Fred Bauer recommended a seven-day suspension, which Hammons said the bar served during the first week of the fall semester. During the raid, the Indiana State Excise Police found 20 minors – all of whom were Notre Dame or Saint Mary’s students – in the bar. A larger raid in April 2003 netted 51 minors and prompted a 30-day suspension of Hammons’ license. Despite adding $4000 worth of camera equipment after the first raid to better screen patrons’ identification, The Library remains a target for busts, Hammons said.”It’s a college town … [and] they’re a bunch of good kids,” he said. “I wish South Bend would see that.”The ATC, which is separate from Bauer’s office, is a four-member panel that votes annually on whether to renew liquor licenses for Indiana bars. Owners who face a revoked license can choose to appeal the decision, sell the bar or remit the license back to the state.Sept. 7, the commission voted not to renew the permit for The Boat Club, another college bar where 213 minors were cited in the largest raid in South Bend history Jan. 24, 2003.