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Board votes to sink Boat Club

Teresa Fralish | Wednesday, September 8, 2004

The unsinkable Boat Club may finally be headed – slowly – underwater. Despite staging a remarkable recovery from the largest raid in South Bend history, the popular student bar could lose its liquor license in the coming months. The Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission voted Tuesday to not renew the permit for the bar.Though The Boat Club will be able to appeal the decision if it so chooses – prolonging its possible demise for at least a month – the board’s decision marks a major setback for the bar. All Indiana taverns must be approved yearly by the ATC or be forced to sell or remit their license back to the state. The Boat Club could, however, remain open throughout the appeal process, said Bart Herriman, chair of the four-member commission.The Boat Club was raided Jan. 24, 2003 by Indiana Excise police, who cited 213 minors – most of them Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students – for underage drinking. “Certainly having over 200 minors in a bar is a gross violation of the law,” Herriman said. He added that the commission’s decision relied heavily on the recommendation of the local St. Joseph County Alcoholic Beverage Board, which in its August meeting stood firmly against The Boat Club.Generally, the ATC gives significant weight to county boards because local officials know best what their area desires, Herriman said. “We give the local boards deference, [and] you may have some communities that put a greater emphasis on certain activities,” he said, adding that the St. Joseph Board “feel(s) strongly about minors being served alcohol.”The Boat Club will be made formally aware of the commission decision and will have 15 days to file an appeal with ATC hearing judge Mark Webb. Webb could then consider both written and oral briefs by The Boat Club and make a recommendation to the committee, Herriman said. The ATC then makes the final decision, which could be further appealed through the Indiana court system if the bar owner so chooses. “They seldom make it that far,” Herriman said. Neither Boat Club owner Mike McNeff or the bar’s lawyer Mitchell Heppenheimer could be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon. The Boat Club faced relatively light penalties from ATC prosecutor Fred Bauer, who fined the bar $5,000 and suspended its license for one week. Bauer has said he will waive the suspension if The Boat Club goes one year without further underage violations.

Contact Teresa Fralish at [email protected]