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Board votes against The Library

Claire Heininger | Thursday, September 23, 2004

The county alcohol board unanimously decided Wednes-day not to recommend the renewal of the liquor license of The Library Irish Pub, a popular student bar that was the site of two police raids in less than a year.

Contending that owner Chuck Hammons lost his chance for approval by breaking an agreement made a year ago, the St. Joseph County Alcoholic Beverage Board asked the state of Indiana to deny the permit for the 113 E. Wayne Street establishment. Indiana State Excise Police cited 20 minors – all of whom were Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students – at The Library April 16.

A larger raid in April 2003 led to the citation of 51 minors and prompted a 30-day suspension of Hammons’ liquor license.

“We approved his permit [last year] under the condition he’d sell the bar,” Board member Michael Pajakowski said. “He said he’d get out of the business and that didn’t happen … [so] at this point there was no way we could make a favorable recommendation.”

Hammons again asked permission to sell Wednesday, but the board denied his request.

“We made that agreement last year,” Pajakowski said. “We didn’t see it as wise to enter into the same agreement.”

Hammons, however, claimed he did satisfy the board’s request.

“I did have a buyer, but the deal fell through to no fault of my own,” he said. “He could not secure the lease. No lease, no deal – that’s not my fault.”

The Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission can uphold or overturn the county’s decision when it reviews The Library in early October, Pajakowski said.

Though the state typically follows the recommendation of the local board – such as when the ATC denied a permit to The Boat Club Sept. 7 – it has overturned recommendations concerning the establishment twice in the past. After 147 underage patrons were cited at the location, then named Finnegan’s Irish Pub, in October 2000, the local board recommended revoking the bar’s license entirely.

However, the state ruled Finnegan’s could remain open under new ownership, and Hammons renamed the bar after buying it from previous owner and South Bend Police officer Ronald Johnson.

“We didn’t feel [Johnson] should benefit by selling to another owner, but the state voted to kill [our recommendation],” Pajakowski said.

Hammons said he hopes the ATC will again rule in his favor.

“I have a lot of faith in the state board,” he said, praising the fairness of the weeklong suspension ATC prosecutor Fred Bauer levied in response to the most recent raid. “Seven days, that’s what the state thinks about it – but the local board seems like a little bit of overkill.”

The county board’s attitude stems from a longstanding grudge against the bar, Hammons said.

“They can’t get over the fact that I am not Ron Johnson and I am not Finnegan’s,” he said. “For four years now I’ve been trying to do the right thing and be an asset to the community, but the city of South Bend and [local officials] don’t like Chuck Hammons. … They want to shut it down because it’s a student bar, plain and simple.”

Though Hammons said he will appeal if denied by the ATC, he does not plan to own the bar in his name past the end of this school year.

“If I get a buyer, I’ll sell it,” he said. “I’m tired of fighting city hall.”