December 18, 2014

Elyria
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Cotton Club owners plead case before liquor control board

Cotton Club owner Anthony Barnhill poses in the East 28th Street bar earlier this year. Barnhill is fighting to keep the bar's liquor permit. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

Cotton Club owner Anthony Barnhill poses in the East 28th Street bar earlier this year. Barnhill is fighting to keep the bar’s liquor permit. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

LORAIN — One fact was not disputed Tuesday as the Lorain Police Department and owners of the Cotton Club hashed out the fate of the establishment’s state-issued liquor permits.

Everyone agreed that the bar is in the middle of a gang- and crime-infested neighborhood. East 28th Street is a known hotspot for drugs and violence and for many years has served as the backdrop for crime.

But that’s where the similarities ended, as two very different stories were told during a hearing of the state Division of Liquor Control.

Police and city officials, who are against permit renewal, argue owners Antoinette and Anthony Barnhill are adding to the area’s problems by allowing criminals and gang members into their bar and not aiding police.

“They have had significant problems with violence and gang members frequenting their bar, so much so they needed to hire professional security officers,” said assistant law director R.J. Budway. “We can only conclude they can’t control the problems in the bar and shouldn’t have a liquor license at this establishment. The bar is hurting the health, safety and welfare of the neighborhood.”

But the Barnhills paint a different picture, one where police officers have shirked the responsibility of cleaning up the area and are not willing to help business owners find viable solutions in the midst of so much crime.

“We did not start this business with the idea of coming in and causing problems,” Antoinette Barnhill said. “We’re entrepreneurs that just want to have something to leave our kids, but we’re in this city that is full of so much mess.”

The near 90-minute hearing was held at the Lorain County Job and Family Service building with attorney James Bally serving as the hearing officer via a video conference feed. Bally will present a recommendation to agency Superintendent Bruce Stevenson, who will ultimately decide on the permits.

Going after a bar’s liquor permit is often the best way for a city to close a place they perceive as a trouble spot. Elyria has successfully done the same with several bars in its downtown, namely the Toy Box Night Club and Uncle Vic’s Night Club.

But the Barnhills do not want their bar to be the latest adult establishment shuttered in Lorain County.

“A bar owner cannot watch what an idiot does when they leave a bar,” said Anthony Barnhill.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.