LORAIN – Closing time was approaching at Gil’s International Lounge early Saturday and everyone was having a good time.
About 15 people sat at the bar while about 20 sat at tables socializing and flirting. Another 15 swayed to recorded hip-hop music on the dance floor. Then trouble started.
Around 1:55 a.m., a man in his early 20s – everyone at the bar was in their 20s or 30s – objected to being frisked by bouncer “Tank” Vaughn. A shoving match began.
“You gotta go!’ Vaughn screamed as he and a fellow bouncer began pushing the man and two of his friends about 15 yards out of the bar at 1840 E. 28th St.
Curses were exchanged on the sidewalk, and when the man and his friends returned to the bar about 10 minutes later, police were called. No one was arrested and no one got hurt, but the incident illustrated the rowdiness at the bar that city officials and police want closed.
On Aug. 19, City Council members approved a resolution to the Ohio Division of Liquor Control recommending Gil’s liquor permit be revoked. A hearing date hasn’t been set. A report by police to Council summarizing Gil’s problems said officers had responded to 59 calls between Jan. 1 and Aug. 1 including numerous fights and two stabbings.
“Criminal activity has become the norm for Gil’s International Lounge over the years,” the report said. “Not only did this criminal activity affect the patrons of the bar, it also endangered the citizens located in surrounding neighborhoods.”
Gil Shields – who opened the bar in 1989 – and bar manager Mark Parker said they try to run a safe establishment and Gil’s has its supporters. Tameka Cheers, 33, said she’s been coming to the bar for 10 years and has never had problems.
“If a person has a problem here, it’s because they brought it on themselves,” Cheers said.
Supporters include Tasha Fairley, 23, a stepsister of Renaldo Collins. In 2004, the 21-year-old Collins was fatally shot in the bar by Anthony Villa, who in 2005 was sentenced to at least 23 years imprisonment.
Collins was at the bar to pick up food. Villa was gunning for Harold Hawthorne, Collins stepfather. Hawthorne, a Gil’s bouncer, had kicked the then 24-year-old Villa out of the bar earlier for not having identification. Despite the killing, Fairley said she feels safe at the bar.
Patrons at the nearby Cotton Club, 1766 E. 28th St., also said they feel safe. Besides Gil’s, Council recommended the club and High Point Gas Mart, 2436 Broadway – formerly Liberty Gas – also have their permits revoked.
The Cotton Club serves food and non-alcoholic drinks after bars close at 2:30 a.m. and some Gil’s customers stop by after closing time.
Police accuse the club of serving after hours and said it’s a “known hangout” for gang members which club owner Anthony Barnhill denies. Around 2:40 a.m. Saturday, there were about 20 people in the club socializing and dancing. Bouncers and off-duty Cleveland police officers patted down customers as they entered.
“Most of these guys aren’t gang bangers,” said Andre Cheers, an entertainment promoter who books rappers to perform at the club. “They go to work on Monday. They come here to unwind.”
Several police cruisers were parked outside the club and several officers stood on the sidewalk. Patrons of the club and Gil’s accuse police of overkill. Andre Cheers, said the heavy police presence discourages customers, most of whom are black, from visiting the club and Gil’s.
“A person of African-American descent sees seven or eight police officers outside, they’re going to keep going,” said Cheers, a cousin of Tameka Cheers. “You see seven cops anywhere, you’re not going there.”
Parker said he’s tried to work with police, but they disagree.
The report to Council said Parker was convicted on July 9 of obstructing a search of the bar on June 24 at 3:06 a.m.
The report said a man with a security shirt on tried to close the front door on police, drinks were found on tables and gang members were among those at the bar.
Parker said the incident was a misunderstanding and he fired the guard who tried to close the door on police.
Parker said rowdy patrons are banned from the bar and incidents like the Saturday scuffle aren’t typical
However, Parker admitted he has his hands full. “I don’t know what to do,” he said.