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West End Pub bar in Hagerstown in limbo awaiting appeal of liquor license revocation

June 12, 2013|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • Jim Slayman and fellow West End Pub regular Tony Bowers sit Wednesday morning at the Hagerstown bar.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff photographer

The parking lot at the West End Pub in Hagerstown was full of vehicles Wednesday morning, but the marquee between the front doors was gone.

By 9:30 a.m. Thursday, owner Ruth Thompson will have to turn in her liquor license after violating a number of local liquor laws.

Although Thompson wasn’t at the pub on Wednesday morning, an employee and a number of her patrons agreed to talk about the bar’s closure.

“I’ve put in resumes, but nobody has answered back,” bartender Becki Brophy said about looking for another job. “They’ve taken all of our jobs from us, and some of us have kids to raise.”

On May 29, the Board of License Commissioners for Washington County voted 3-0 to revoke the pub’s liquor license. The liquor board cited a long history of rowdy behavior and liquor violations as the reason for its decision.

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“There’s definitely a threat to the peace and safety of the neighborhood,” liquor board Treasurer Charles Mades said before he made the motion to revoke the license.

The West End Pub has appeared eight times before the liquor board to answer for violations since May 26, 2007, according to board records. Those violations included six counts of selling alcohol to underage police agents.

But the liquor board seemed more concerned about the number of times police have been called to the establishment at 5 Nottingham Road.

Hagerstown police Sgt. John Lehman said at the May 29 hearing that officers were called to the West End Pub 121 times from April 29, 2011, to April 29, 2013. One of those calls involved a man who had been shot in the leg as he stood by the front door at the end of March.

Brophy admitted that things have gotten a little crazy at the bar in the past, but said Thompson tried to correct the problems, in part, by installing 20 security cameras to monitor the interior and exterior of the property.

“They need to realize that this bar is not the problem,” she said.

A number of patrons who were at the bar on Wednesday morning agreed, saying a few troublemakers come in at night and cause all of the problems. In some cases, the pub gets blamed for neighborhood fights that don’t involve customers, they said.

Hagerstown resident Jim Slayman said he has been a customer at the pub for about 15 years, particularly in the morning, when he has a few beers and plays Keno.

“I’ve never had any problems here in the morning ... but all taverns have problems at night,” he said. “Of course, you get a few bad apples, but do you throw away the barrel?”

Slayman said he believes the liquor board’s decision was doing nothing more than hurting a small-business owner who was struggling to get by.

“We say small business builds America,” Slayman said. “What ... are they doing?”

Susan Lochbaum, the attorney who is representing the liquor board in the West End Pub matter, said Tuesday that the case is in a holding pattern until the court sets a date to hear Thompson’s appeal.

On Monday, a Washington County Circuit Court judge denied a motion for a temporary injunction, which would have allowed the pub to remain open until a decision is made on the appeal.

“The liquor board does not relish the idea of a business in this community closing,” Lochbaum said.

“However, when an establishment becomes a danger to the police, patrons and the community, something has to be done.”

West End Pub attorney Charles Bailey declined to comment Tuesday.

As he sat at the bar Wednesday morning, Larry Patey said he started coming to the pub when he was 11 years old to eat breakfast with his father. Now, the 26-year-old Patey comes in after the night shift to unwind with a few beers before he goes home.

“It’s kind of hard to find something open when I get off work,” he said.

Patey said he was surprised when he found out the pub was going to close. It’s going to be difficult to find another bar within walking distance of his house, he said.

Matthew Sellers of Martinsburg, W.Va., said he has been a regular at the pub for about three years.

“We consider this our home,” he said. “We have a couple beers, eat our (chicken) wings and go home.”

Sellers said he believed Thompson was trying to run an honest business, but a few bad patrons who caused trouble at night ruined things for everybody.

“It was just a few bad apples,” he said. “We really wanted her to stay open” as a bar.

Brophy said the business will continue to function as a restaurant and pool hall. She said a few of the employees were considering whether to help Thompson by volunteering their time.

But Brophy said she doubted if the pub could survive without alcohol sales.

“It’s going to hurt us bad,” she said.

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