Kirkwood Bar & Grill To Appeal City's Liquor License Denial

Bar's attorney says denial is unconstitutional.

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.


Wavie Davie February 01, 2012 at 03:03 PM
So where the hell is our change, Mayor? You promised a "new day" in Atlanta politics, and now you cow tow to the biddie hens over in NPU-O? It is the same way over in NPU-E and possibly others; if you are not on the 'inside' you are on the 'outside'. Go gettem, Alan! Time for the citizens of the city to buy you another nice new car. I suggest we send the attorney's bill to NPU-O. Ye reap what ye sew.
givemeabreak February 01, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Oh come on!! It is not whether you are a black or white owned business, it is if you are doing buiness according to the rules and laws that are governed! It appears Krkwood Bark & Grill has not. So instead of doing what is right and operate accoring to those rules and laws stated, the owner of that establishment wants to do it his way. Oh yeah, that is a really good business owner. One who wishes not to promote a stable business in a community he really does not care for.
Stef February 01, 2012 at 06:32 PM
I find it hilarious that Johnson keeps playing the race card, when in the exact same complex as his own business is another restaurant with a black owner that is thriving and a neighborhood favorite. I'm proud of the mayor for listening to the community and not one idiot running a poorly managed and run business. Who sets up a club in a condo complex and thinks that's a good business strategy? Who thinks repeatedly lying to the neighborhood about your intentions is a good business strategy? Wavie Davis is correct, you do reap what you sow, and Johnson getting rejected by the mayor is exactly what he earned by believing he was above the law, above the neighborhood and above anybody who disagreed with him.
Dana Blankenhorn February 01, 2012 at 10:41 PM
That's unacceptable, and if you drove by the place you'd realize it. The place is located inside a residential complex, and shares walls with several condominium units. You can argue a restaurant should never have been situated there, but before you throw stones think about whether you'd want your kids sharing a wall with the place as described by the attorney for the plaintiff.
Stacey February 02, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Let's just consider process here and not argue the specific facts. At the License Review Board meeting, both parties were permitted to be present and address the issues. They recommended approval. The Mayor remanded it back to LRB with certain issues. LRB met again with both parties present along with further investigation from License & Permits and recommended approval. Then the Mayor, apparently based on some lobbying BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, denies the application and the applicant hears about it when a journalist calls to ask him about it. See anything wrong here? I sure do. As the owner of a business with liquor and business licenses in the City of Atlanta, I am outraged by this. The City ordinance lists the grounds for denial and the only one that comes close to applying is this: "The applicant is of bad moral character or has a bad reputation in the community or does not have sufficient mental capacity to conduct the business for which application is made. " To have someone's business that they have invested in substantially both monetarily and otherwise be taken away without even having the opportunity to make your case face to face with the person making the decision? And probably because they think you have "bad moral character"? Just doesn't feel good to me no matter how much you believe the neighbors are right. Stacey Day QUAD & Spring4th Complex
Stacey February 02, 2012 at 02:31 PM
And just so it's clear I have some bias here... When we went through the application process, we had incredible neighborhood opposition that was baseless. Someone from the neighborhood board even distributed fake flyers pretending to be an event at our facility, which damaged our reputation. The local neighborhood association recommended that the license be denied because our business was "not appropriate for the neighborhood." Of course, since we've been here, there are now NO prostitutes in the area (used to be many every night), the trash and litter has disappeared, people walk freely on this block that used to be a bunch of empty buildings attracting vagrants... Again, I am talking about PROCESS here and not necessarily specifically defending the Kirkwood applicant. Stacey Day QUAD & Spring4th Complex
Péralte Paul (Editor) February 02, 2012 at 10:44 PM
How are things between your business and that neighborhood now, Stacey?
Sean Casey February 03, 2012 at 02:33 AM
Oh lets not forget about the infamous "spray painting" incident in which David Johnson claimed that someone from Kirkwood presumably drove 45 miles each way to spray-paint racial slurs on his garage door the day AFTER Johnson was remanded back to the LRB. The opposition to Kirkwood Bar and Grill is broad and is reflective of our diverse community. In the process of the LRB and Mayoral review, the mayors office reportedly recieved over 800 e-mails. Considering that the neighborhood organization has only 150-200 paid members and NPU meetings only draw less than 100 people, I would say that this is a little more than a few angry folks- though thanks to those few who led the fight. David Johnson and Kirkwood Bar and Grill are BAD for our community. The reason the mayor remanded the decision of the LRB is that the police and other city officials charged with researching the applicant failed to do their due dilligence, the LRB failed to hear crucial testimony from credible community stake-holders, repeatedly cutting them short or cow-towing to objections from Johnsons attorney. I say let him sue- you dont need a good reason to sue, you just need a good reason to win. Johnson doesnt have a good reason- just an inflated ego that wont let him acknowledge that he f-ed up.
KWD February 03, 2012 at 06:18 PM
KWBG is a complete joke funded by a bunch of criminals who are silent partners. Oh yeah, bet you didn't know that.
KWood Mommia February 18, 2012 at 02:28 AM
For Mr. Johnson....Freakonomics 101....podcast on the upside of quitting. Sunk cost vs. opportunity cost. Is it really worth it to you to fight this uphill battle? http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/09/30/new-freakonomics-radio-podcast-the-upside-of-quitting/


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