Thursday, September 23, 2004

Under city pressure, Martin Bar shuts down

Police say it's haven for drug sales and crime

By Jane Prendergast
Enquirer staff writer

Police describe Martin Bar, at the corner of Elm and Green streets in Over-the-Rhine, as a place they're called to often. Wednesday, it was closed.
OVER-THE-RHINE - Rather than fight city hall, a bar that police and neighbors call a magnet for drugs and crime voluntarily closed its doors Wednesday.

The owners of Martin Bar at 1715 Elm Street, less than a block from Findlay Market, locked the doors hours after a city lawyer informed them she planned today to start the process of legally declaring Martin's a public nuisance.

That process includes notifying the Ohio Division of Liquor Control, which can revoke a bar's license. Instead of gambling that the license would be revoked, bar owner Jim Nicholas surrendered the liquor license Wednesday, which protects it for future use, said Melanie Reising, a prosecutor in the city's community prosecution section who had the court documents ready to file today. Nicholas is an assistant public defender for Hamilton County.

"The goal has to be that we won't stop until this place is gone or very disciplined and not letting these kinds of things go on there,'' said Councilman David Pepper, chairman of City Council's Law & Public Safety committee

Reising and Tom Jones, who is organizing the new Neighborhood Support Center opening in Over-the-Rhine in November, called Wednesday's move by the bar a win for the grassroots group pushing to clean up the area.

"It's drugs and guns - practically every night,'' Jones said. "People who want to patronize places down there should not be confronted with these thugs.''

Laura Baumann, director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati, which has a location nearby on Green Street, said patrons and employees have witnessed drug sales and violence around the bar for years.

The city last used the public nuisance law to shut down a bar in 2000.. That battle, to close Elder Cafe in Over-the-Rhine, took a six-week court battle after police said they had made arrests at the bar for years. A customer was shot and killed in the bar in January 1999.

Officials pressured another bar, Uncle Milt's in Avondale, into closing after police and their informants bought cocaine inside the bar. After that, the city said it would not renew its liquor license in spring 2002. The process continued more than a year while the bar exhausted appeals.

It's just not easy to close down a bar, and it shouldn't be, said Capt. James Whalen, District 1 police commander.

"You're taking a licensed entity and saying: 'You failed so badly that we're taking away your ability to do business,''' Whalen said. "That's not something you do lightly.''

Still, he said Martin's Bar has been a priority for him since he took over the district 18 months ago. The bar was one the busiest in Over-the-Rhine for drug sales, he said.

"We're in there all the time,'' Whalen said. "I've thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the place.''


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