The battle over Kirkwood Bar & Grill's liquor license is about to go into a full-scale war.
Atlanta Attorney Alan I. Begner said Mayor Kasim Reed's decision last week to deny restaurateur David Johnson a liquor license is unconstitutional and he will seek to have it overturned in court.
"I'm confident that his order will be reversed on appeal," Begner told East Atlanta Patch Tuesday.
Begner, a longtime Atlanta attorney, has had several high-profile cases including representing the owner of the infamous Gold Club in the early 2000s.
He also successfully challenged a 2007 Atlanta law that required exotic dancers be at least 21 years of age to obtain their licenses instead of 18.
Begner said he intends to file the appeal in Fulton County Superior Court by week's end or early next week.
Reed's spokeswoman did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment late Tuesday, but last week, she said the mayor's decision was made after "carefully considering neighborhood concerns that have been brought to him."
The concerns presented included a series of 911 calls made in connection to issues at the bar at 1963 Hosea L. Williams Dr. NE and what residents said were repeated violations of the bylaws governing Kirkwood Station, the mixed-use housing and retail development where Johnson's bar operates. Residents also said the bar had two-for-one drink specials — in violation of the law.
Reading from the Jan. 26 letter the city sent to Johnson, Begner said the mayor specifically denied Johnson's liquor license because "the public convenience and advantage would not be promoted."
That phrasing will be key in his appeal to have the mayor's decision overturned because he said the phrasing is so vague it violates the state law that says local liquor ordinances have to have requirements that are discernable.
“These are terms that are 1,000 miles from ascertainable,” Begner said. “State statutes say you can’t deny it on vague term like this.”
Indeed, Johnson met the more quantifiable parts of Atlanta’s liquor license laws in his application: he didn’t have a criminal background and the establishment already operated as a bar so it was grandfathered, Begner said.
As for the neighborhood concerns regarding crime and the 911 calls, Begner countered it was a concerted effort by Kirkwood residents and Neighborhood Planning Unit-O, which represents the interests of the Edgewood, Kirkwood and East Lake communities, against his client.
He charged only one of the 911 calls made regarding Kirkwood Bar & Grill actually involved the restaurant.
“Radical members of the NPU jammed 911 with calls to create an upbeat in 911 calls when he was open,” Begner said.
Earl Williamson, chairman of NPU-O, said Tuesday he could not comment because the appeal had not yet been filed.
Johnson, the bar’s owner, has said the opposition to the restaurant comes from a few in Kirkwood who don’t want his business because he’s black and the restaurant draws a black clientele.
Despite the fact that Kirkwood has a number of minority-owned businesses, including two of the oldest in the city and a significant black population, Begner echoed Johnson’s sentiments.
“The NPU didn’t want a place open late at night that drew customers outside Kirkwood whom I think they found would be incompatible to the neighborhood,” the attorney said.
He characterized the opposition as being afraid of an occurrence akin to the Jan. 31, 2000 stabbing deaths of two men Buckhead for which three others, including Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, were arrested and charged with murder. The murder charges were dismissed against Lewis and the two other men arrested were acquitted several months later.
“I think the neighborhood envisions Ray Lewis coming from Buckhead to here with his rowdy friends and shooting people.” Begner said.