University Avenue bars Madison Avenue and Johnny O’s have kept their alcohol licenses after the Alcohol License Review Committee Tuesday night voted to accept an agreement reached by the bars and the city of Madison.
The Madison Police Department filed a non-renewal complaint against the bars in response to the high number of underage people frequenting the establishments, as well as violent disturbances occurring at the bars.
Assistant city attorney Jennifer Zilavy said its evident from the police complaint the police had legitimate concerns about the bars and how they were being run.
The police withdrew the complaints after the representatives of the bars and the city reached an agreement in which the alcohol licenses of the bars would be retained, yet the bars have to operate under stricter conditions.
Some of these conditions include: Madison Avenue having its license suspended from July 1st to July 30; more comprehensive training for bar staff; a 20 percent reduction of Madison Avenue’s maximum capacity from 700 to 560 for a year; having one bar staff per 30 patrons Thursday to Saturday.
Johnny O’s did not receive a suspension, but were given similar restrictions in its operation. According to the agreement, the establishment must purchase ID scanners and use fluorescent black lights for fake identification detection. Also, the agreement stipulates the Madison Chief of Police has the authority to decrease the maximum capacity of the establishment by 20 percent with a written notice to owner Jon Okonek if an unusually high number of liquor law violations occur at the bar.
Zilavy said the bars only have two “semi-disciplinary” actions taken against them recently, and the bars have not had a history of elevated, disciplinary police enforcement. Therefore the agreement for the two bars is the result of approaching the disciplinary process in a different manner.
“They haven’t had the opportunity, which I think is a fair process, to have them operate within further restrictions and see if they can run their business that way,” Zilavy said.
Okonek’s attorney and former member of ALRC Rick Petri said he and his client were not given sufficient time to review the complaint.
“There is no dialogue that is effectively occurring between the [alcohol] industry and between the regulators and policy makers,” Petri said.
Petri urged the committee to adopt the agreement, and wants to create a more positive working environment between all parties, such as the police and alcohol industry.
Okonek said he has worked his entire life to be a responsible handler of his liquor license, and has been in the alcohol business for over 20 years.
“We’ve poured our lives into this building over the last five or six years” Okonek said. “…This is a crushing thing for me.”
Okonek added he was aware of the incidents in the complaints, but was not aware the police thought he should not have an alcohol license.
Local bar Ram Head’s alcohol license was also jeopardized by the police’s non-renewal complaint.
The ALRC also heard the city’s case against local bar Ram Head, as well as Ram Head owner Richard Lyshek’s defense. No decision was reached, and the ALRC will have to meet again to give its decision.