Liquor investigator calls police on 'hostile' bar crowd during COVID restriction visit

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Wyandotte — The Michigan Liquor Control Commission announced Monday it had temporarily suspended the liquor licenses of five businesses that violated COVID restrictions this month, including a Wyandotte bar whose patrons became so "hostile" to a state investigator, she said she was forced to call police.

In another alleged infraction, the owner of a Warren sports bar told an investigator he knew he was violating state orders but was doing what he could "to keep the business alive," according to a Liquor Control Commission report.

The commission said in a press release Monday it issued five emergency suspensions of liquor licenses and permits for the businesses, which had multiple violations of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Emergency Order.

The reported violations, all in December, include "allowing non-residential, in-person gatherings; providing in-person dining; failure to require face coverings for staff and patrons; and failure to prohibit patrons from congregating," the release said.

The commission has suspended 26 liquor licenses since September.

Four of the five December suspensions involved Metro Detroit businesses, including the Oak Cafe in Wyandotte, which had its license suspended Dec. 16. A hearing is scheduled Wednesday to determine if the suspension will continue.

A phone call to the Oak Cafe was not returned Monday. Liquor Control Commission spokeswoman Jeannie Vogel declined to comment beyond the press release.

"The business advertised that it was open for carryout service," said a commission report detailing the alleged findings of state investigator Anne Flynn-Sloat, who visited the bar Dec. 7. "The investigator walked into the bar area and found several patrons seated at the bar drinking alcoholic beverages."

According to the report, Flynn-Sloat attempted to order an alcoholic beverage, "but the bartender/cook stated that drinks were only available for those patrons who place a carryout order. Subsequently, the investigator identified herself and advised the bartender that the patrons could not gather inside the establishment and consume alcohol."

The bartender ignored the investigator, the report said. Flynn-Sloat then asked to speak with the owner.

"As the investigator waited for the owner, she contacted law enforcement as the crowd at the bar was becoming increasingly hostile and the bartender refused to cooperate with the investigator," the report said. "Police officers showed up shortly thereafter."

Wyandotte police Deputy Chief Archie Hamilton said it's unusual for liquor investigators to call police, "so I imagine something must've happened to prompt her to call us, but when our officers arrived, there were no issues," he said. "Everything went well."

According to the state report, the bar's owner, Michael Maciag, arrived at the bar, but failed to identify himself "for approximately 7 minutes. Eventually Mr. Maciag approached the officers and identified himself."

"Flynn-Sloat explained to Mr. Maciag that his patrons could not gather inside the establishment and drink alcoholic liquor," the report said. "During this exchange, at least two patrons were continuing to drink alcohol even though their carryout orders had been in front of them for several minutes.

"After approximately five minutes, the patrons started leaving the establishment, most of them with carryout orders," the report said.

The Limelight Pizza Kitchen Grill & Bar in Warren also had its license suspended after state investigators Chris Drake and Molly Blessing inspected the bar Dec. 10. A phone call to the bar was not returned Monday. A Dec. 28 hearing on the suspension is scheduled. 

"Upon entering the licensed establishment, (Drake) observed 21 patrons who were dining inside and 6 patrons who were dining in a fully enclosed area of their Outdoor Service Area (ODS)," the report said. "The patrons were observed consuming alcoholic beverages and food in both the inside of the licensed establishment and the enclosed area of the ODS.

"It should also be noted that neither the staff nor most of the patrons appeared to be wearing masks," the report said. "After making the above observations, Investigators Drake and Blessing asked to speak with the manager and contacted Naseer Jawaro. Jawaro was questioned regarding his knowledge of the current Department of Health and Human Services Epidemic Orders.

"During this conversation Jawaro confirmed that he was aware of the MDHHS Orders prohibiting indoor dining, but indicated that they were just trying to do what they could to keep the business alive," the report said. "Jawaro was advised that a violation would be submitted, and the investigators exited the premises."

JJ Knapps Tavern in Richmond also had its license suspended after another Dec. 10 inspection by Drake and Blessing, who received a report of COVID restriction violations. Bar owner Elanor Knapp declined to comment Monday.

"The investigators noticed 6 patrons were seated at the bar consuming alcoholic beverages," the report said. "None of the patrons were socially distancing or wearing a face mask and the bartender who identified herself as 'Joyce' was also not wearing a face mask."

The next day, Drake returned to the bar and "observed 4 patrons in the establishment, two of whom were seated at the bar and not wearing face masks," the report said. "The bartender was also not wearing a face mask."

According to the report, Drake spoke with the bar owner, Knapp, on Dec. 14. "Knapp explained that the persons who were consuming alcohol inside the establishment on December 10, 2020 had just come inside from the outdoor service area to warm up," the report said.

"Investigator Drake noted that this was not consistent with the explanation provided by the bartender on that date. Knapp also informed Drake that she had reviewed video footage from that night."

The fourth Metro Detroit bar to have its liquor license suspended was Fast Eddie’s Bar & Grill in Mount Clemens, which also is scheduled for a Dec. 28 hearing. Several phone calls to the bar Monday went unanswered.

Drake and Blessing inspected the bar on Dec. 10 and noticed the parking lot was "full of cars," the state report said. Drake went into the bar and saw 13 patrons, "the majority of whom were seated at the bar," according to the report.

"The patrons were observed consuming alcoholic beverages and not wearing masks. The bartender had a mask on but was wearing it improperly beneath her chin," the report said.

"Drake and Blessing then identified themselves to the bartender and asked about the indoor dining. The bartender claimed that the patrons had just come inside from the tented outdoor service area to warm up. However, this statement appeared to be contrary to the investigators’ observations.

"The bartender then informed the patrons that they needed to go outside, which appeared to take the patrons by surprise," the report said. "The bartender was only able to secure compliance when she informed the patrons that Michigan Liquor Control Commission was there."

The two investigators returned to the bar the next day — only to find "that the parking lot appeared to be fuller than the night before," the report said.

When the investigators went inside, they found 34 people drinking alcohol, the report said.

"There was no social distancing, patrons were not wearing masks, and the bartender was not wearing a mask," the report said. "Patrons were mingling around and congregating in common areas, including playing pool."

The investigators identified themselves to the bartender, who was different from the bartender they'd encountered the previous evening, the report said.

"The bartender indicated that she just works there and was doing what she was told," the report said.

Tenacity Brewing in Flint was the state's fifth liquor license suspension this month. According to the state report, inspections on Nov. 18 and Dec. 9 found patrons and staff allegedly were not wearing masks. A Dec. 28 hearing is scheduled. 

A Tenacity Brewing employee who answered the phone Monday said the owner was not available for comment.

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN