When last I wrote about my neighborhood of Kirkwood (a neighborhood in Atlanta) I was very worried that racial tensions were on the rise. I was worried that the black owner of a new business was getting a raw deal, and noted how I voted with him, feeling quite proud of myself.
Last night I attended the meeting of our local Neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU), the group whose recommendations are usually followed by the city in the granting of liquor licenses.
I learned a lot.
About 70 folks attended, almost half of them neighbors of the Kirkwood Bar & Grill, which opened a few months ago in a work-shop-residential development called Kirkwood Station. What they said was pretty shocking:
“I have a live-work unit” in the development, a woman said. “Since the Kirkwood Bar & Grill opened 36 noise complaints were made within one 30 day period. There were 34 911 calls, four fights, one theft, and one drug bust with a concealed weapon. Last Thursday there was a shooting that started outside our bedroom window and ran to Howard Street,” a block away.
It was at this point that David Johnson, who opened the place, lost me. He repeatedly called his place a “sports bar product,” said he'd hired police security but then removed it after neighbors complained it made the block feel unsafe, then claimed he should not be held responsible for a shooting that “happened at the BP.”
He was by turns defiant, ingratiating, infuriating and defensive. He wore a ball cap with his initials on it, pretended nothing was his fault but he was doing everything possible to fix it. He admitted that, while he'd told neighbors he would close at 11, he was often open until 2 AM, that after the sun went down his place does have disco, private parties and loud music.
The bottom fell out when the head of the Kirkwood Business Owners Association (KBOA) challenged him on the points above, and Johnson claimed to be a lead sponsor of the area's annual Spring Fling, which was held under the previous owner's aegis. “I'm a proud member of KBOA,” he said. The president said she'd return his money, but hadn't gotten the check.
This sort of thing went on for about an hour, until the chair announced we'd have to clear out soon under the city's rules and could talk for five minutes more. Then a vote was held. 56 against a liquor license (I noticed some black hands raised on that), 7 for (I saw at least 2 white hands here) and 6 abstentions. The local councilperson and a state assemblyman were in the audience.
I left feeling pretty proud about Kirkwood. David Johnson is a go-getter and he does have options. There's a ton of commercial property available along Memorial Drive at very low rates, just a half-mile south of his present location, and that includes an entire shopping center renovated for a charter school that was unable to open, because it lost its charter.
But you don't put a nightclub open until 2 AM under a residential window. That's just stupid. Bye-bye, Kirkwood Bar & Grill.