December 20, 2014

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New owner hopes new atmosphere will help Lorain bar shed rowdy image

Asa Knowles is the owner of Dart's Lounge in Lorain, formerly known as Gil's International Lounge. KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

Asa Knowles is the owner of Dart’s Lounge in Lorain, formerly known as Gil’s International Lounge. KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

LORAIN — Gil’s International Lounge now is the Dart Lounge. The bar’s new owner says more than the name has changed.

Asa Knowles, 65, of Lorain, said Tuesday he’s aware of the history of Gil’s. Police frequently were called to the bar to break up fights since it opened in 1989. The bar, at 1840 E. 28th St., was the scene of a 2004 murder and two stabbings last year. City Council members tried to get the bar’s liquor permit revoked last year.

Besides putting in new flooring and opening a kitchen, Knowles said he’s installed nine surveillance cameras in and around the bar, which he took over in October. Gangster rap is no longer played. Knowles said he plans to have a karaoke contest in September and live blues and jazz in October.

“I’m trying to create an atmosphere here that’s going to allow people to come out, enjoy themselves and go home at a decent time, which is totally opposite of what it used to be before I bought the bar,” he said.

Police last year recommended to Council that it ask the Ohio Department of Commerce’s Division of Liquor Control to revoke the permit due to frequent calls to the bar. But police have abandoned revocation efforts.

Sgt. Michael Failing, the department’s crime analysis and intelligence officer, wrote in a Tuesday email that there has been “significant improvement” at the bar since Knowles took it over. Besides installing cameras, Failing wrote that Knowles has banned patrons who don’t follow the rules and pursued criminal charges against one patron. Failing said the changes have reduced calls to the bar and increased patron safety.

“The goal of liquor license objections was not to punish owners, but to encourage responsible ownership so the citizens of Lorain could feel safe and secure while enjoying a night out,” Failing said. “The new direction in which Knowles was operating the bar seemed to coincide with the direction of the Lorain Police Department.”

The division at a June 19 hearing overruled the renewal objection, said Matt Mullins, a division spokesman. Mullins wrote in an email that the decision was due to no one from Council appearing at the hearing or sending written complaints.

However, Councilman Dan Given, D-at large, said at Monday’s meeting that Council never had a chance to object. He said police and Law Director Pat Riley never informed Council that a hearing was occurring.

“You really don’t care what Council thinks,” Given told Riley, who denied the accusation.

Councilman Tony Richardson, D-at large, said after the meeting that he’s still concerned about the bar despite the changes.

“If you’re attracting the same clientele, then we’re going to have some of the same problems we’ve had over the past years,” he said.

Knowles said he understands the skepticism and can’t promise there will never be trouble.

“Anybody can act the fool at any time,” he said. “I can’t guarantee that it won’t happen, but I’m trying to create an atmosphere to where it won’t happen.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.