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Boat Club shuts doors for good

Teresa Fralish | Wednesday, January 12, 2005

After two police raids and over 250 underage drinking citations in recent years, the bar many students said would never sink finally lowered its sails for good in late December. The Boat Club stopped doing business by Dec. 22 after agreeing to place its liquor license in escrow, said chief assistant South Bend city attorney Alladeane DeRose. While the license is held in escrow by the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (ATC), the bar will have up to five years to sell the license to new owners, if it so chooses, before the license reverts back to ATC ownership, DeRose said. However, DeRose said the South Bend attorney’s office would closely scrutinize potential buyers carefully and would likely not favor the establishment’s reopening as a student bar. “I think the city would be hyper-vigilant to make sure we didn’t have the same type of operation there,” said DeRose. The city will make recommendations to the county alcohol board about any possible sale of the bar’s license. The board must approve any action by The Boat Club, and may also consider blocking any transfer of the bar’s license whatsoever, DeRose said. The Boat Club owner Mike McNeff could not be reached for comment.Many students expressed sadness about the closure of the long time student bar. “I’m sad because we had a lot of fun times and good memories there,” said Saint Mary’s senior Mary Pat Chmiel. Notre Dame senior Emily Godlewski said the closing marked the end of a Notre Dame tradition. “What’s going to happen to Robbie the cup collector? Boat was part of the Notre Dame experience,” said. “Truthfully, I really loved Boat because it had the ability to unite ND students with mullet heads.”Others students were more ambivalent about The Boat Club’s closure. “I think that some other bar will become the new Boat Club because there’s a lot of profit to be had,” Notre Dame senior Claire Hagan said. “I couldn’t care less.”Senior Kevin Wiseman called Boat’s closing a “blessing in disguise.””I think there are a lot better bars in the area,” he said. The escrow action came after a Dec. 9 raid in which police issued 32 citations for underage drinking. Jackie Robbins, public information officer for the Indiana Excise Police, said Excise sent a final report on the raid to the ATC, but that no further actions had been taken. Further details about the bar’s closure were not available due to pending appointments of new ATC officials by new Indiana governor, Mitch Daniels. Current officials could not be reached for comment. According to Excise Police District 1 spokesman Sgt. Michelle Traughber, many of those cited Dec. 9 were Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students, although she could not say an exact number. Ticketed students will face penalties from the St. Joseph County prosecutor’s office, but all pending cases have been placed on hold due to the December retirement of ATC prosecutor Fred Bauer, Robbins said. The governor’s office will likely appoint a new prosecutor within the next week, she said, and penalties could be decided within 1-2 months. In past raids, students have generally been offered pretrial diversion coupled with fines and community service hours.Notre Dame students will likely receive additional punishments from the Office of Residence Life, including fines and community service requirements. The Saint Mary’s student handbook bars College officials from levying additional penalties against cited students. The first raid on The Boat Club occurred in January 2003, when Excise Police cited 213 minors, most of whom were Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students. After the January 2003 raid, Bauer recommended that the bar pay a $5,000 fine and serve a one-week license suspension, which was later postponed. In April 2003, The Boat Club owner Mike McNeff chose to sue the minors cited for damages his bar incurred as a result of the January 2003 police bust. Many of the students appealed the suits though Indiana courts ultimately ruled for The Boat Club. Many students chose to settle with the bar, although some did opt to pursue their cases in court. It was not immediately clear how suits still pending might be affected by The Boat Club’s closure. Boat Club attorney Mitch Heppenheimer and attorneys for students could not be reached.