By John Wright News Editor

Failure to update address on liquor license led to shutdown

JOHN WRIGHT/Dallas Voice Bill Walling, a bartender at the Dallas Eagle, pours a drink Tuesday afternoon, July 14 inside the original Dallas Eagle. The bar reopened Monday in its old location after its new facility was forced to shut down on Friday night, July 10.

For the owners, employees and loyal customers of the Dallas Eagle, last Friday night’s grand opening of the gay bar’s new digs was a dream five years in the making.

The Eagle, which first opened in 1993 and caters to the leather, Levi and bear communities, overcame opposition from nearby property owners every step of the way to win approval from the city for the new facility — even though it stands just across a parking lot from the old bar near Maple Avenue and Inwood Road.

But the Eagle’s victory celebration, which reportedly drew several hundred revelers, turned out to be short-lived, after the Dallas Police Department and Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission swooped in just before 10 p.m. and eventually forced the owners to shut the bar down.

The Eagle’s three co-owners this week took full responsibility for the incident, which was a result of them failing to complete a change of address on their TABC-issued liquor license. They also sought to quell inevitable comparisons between the incident at the Eagle and a highly controversial raid by authorities two weeks before at the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth.

Despite yet another in a long series of setbacks for the new facility, the owners of the Eagle vowed to open it again soon. And by Monday, July 13, the bar was up and running at its old location until they can finalize the paperwork necessary for the move. 

"It’s been a struggle all along," one of the three co-owners of the Eagle told Dallas Voice this week.

"I suppose it’s just another opportunity to just come back better," said the co-owner, who asked not to be identified. "We’ll make it. We’re not down. We will absolutely make it. Come hell or high water, we’ll be open and we’ll be there serving the community. We don’t give up 10 feet from the finish line, I’ll tell you that."

Allegations of ‘bar wars’
Initial media reports over the weekend characterized the Eagle incident as another possible example of "selective enforcement" and "harassment" of gay bars by TABC and local police in North Texas.

But representatives from TABC and the Dallas Police Department categorically denied those allegations, and by Monday afternoon the owners of the Eagle issued a statement apologizing to authorities for the "adverse press they have had to endure simply for doing their duty."

"Neither of the agencies in any way harassed or threatened us," said the statement, which also extended apologies to the bar’s employees and customers.

"Their behavior throughout was polite and organized."

The owners of the Eagle said the shutdown stemmed from misinformation they received from a private agent hired to expedite the change of address on their liquor license. They said the agent had wrongly informed them that the process was complete and that they could legally open the new facility. Representatives from the licensing agent, identified by another source as G & S Licensing Consultants of Dallas, didn’t return a phone message seeking comment.

The Eagle owners also accused an unnamed competitor of tipping off authorities about the license issue, an allegation that harkened back to "bar wars" more prevalent in the industry in the 1980s.

The owners said the fact that the complaints were made through the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office and TABC’s licensing division in Austin indicated they came from someone with "well-placed connections."

The Eagle co-owner later said he knew "for a fact" the complaints were made by a competitor but declined to identify the competitor or provide additional evidence.
"On a broader note, it is enough that our community has to deal with discrimination on a daily basis without having to worry about elements within our own community," the Eagle co-owners said in their statement. "This, to our minds, is the real story here."

Enforcement called routine
Representatives from TABC and DPD confirmed that the agencies were acting on complaints they’d received earlier in the week when they responded to the Eagle on Friday night. TABC and DPD representatives also characterized the enforcement operation as relatively routine.

"We do it all the time. Our vice guys, that’s what they do," said Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse, a spokesman for DPD. "It was a textbook investigation of a complaint, with the desired results. Anyone calls a complaint on any type of bar, we’re going to by law investigate the complaint regardless of what type of bar it is."

In a statement issued Monday, TABC noted that the bar’s address had changed from 2515 Inwood Road to 5740 Maple Ave. The Eagle had applied for a change of address on its liquor license July 7, but the application process wasn’t complete.

Carolyn Beck, a spokeswoman for TABC, said the complaint to her agency was made anonymously. Janse said he was unsure whether the complaint to his agency was anonymous or had come through the DA’s Office, but he said he had no record of the complainant’s identity.

Beck said a total of six TABC agents — including three who were receiving on-the-job training  — arrived at the Eagle around 9:50 p.m., only to discover that Dallas police had already responded separately and were preparing their own undercover operation. The TABC agents left and wouldn’t return until they were called back by DPD to help seize and dispose of the bar’s alcohol, Beck said.
Beck called rules requiring owners, addresses and locations to match up on liquor licenses one of the "backbones" of TABC regulations.

After photos circulated over the weekend of undercover officers wearing "ski masks" or "ninja masks" inside the Eagle, Beck also stressed that TABC officers never wear masks and didn’t make any arrests during the operation.

Janse said undercover DPD vice unit officers sometimes wear masks to protect their identities, but he wouldn’t confirm whether they did so in this instance. He also said he didn’t know how many DPD officers were present for the operation.
DPD issued at least seven citations during the operation, Janse said. 

Janse said the arrests were made at-large, meaning no one was taken into custody.

Six of the citations went to bartenders for sale of alcohol without a license, a class-B misdemeanor, Janse said. He defended the criminal charges against bartenders even though they may not have been aware of the situation.

"If I were to go to work for someone to sell alcohol, I would want to see the permit first." Janse said. "I don’t think it’s unfair at all."

The other citation went to the owners of the Eagle for allowing dancing without a valid dance hall permit, a class-C misdemeanor. The owners said they have dance hall permit for the old bar but the address hadn’t been updated.

The criminal charges are in addition to administrative action Eagle owners face from TABC for sale of alcoholic beverages away from the licensed premises.
TABC said it could suspend the bar’s license for 3-5 days or fine the owners $900-$1,500 in lieu of the suspension.

The owners of the Eagle vowed to cover all costs associated with the charges against their bartenders, and Beck said the violations will not affect their ability to proceed with the pending application. 

"We will be working with them to get that change of address completed as quickly as possible so that they will have a permit at that location and can operate there," Beck said.


This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 17, 2009.

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