Agreement nixed after Aspen licensing board members split on Bootsy Bellows
There will be no management overhaul of the downtown nightclub Bootsy Bellows as part of a settlement agreement with the city of Aspen. It took two members of Local Licensing Authority to determine that Wednesday.
By deadlocking in a 2-2 vote, the LLA board effectively quashed the proposed settlement agreement between the city and Bootsy Aspen One LLC, which does business as Bootsy Bellows.
It also set the stage for evidence of the bar’s alleged infractions, as well as a defense by its management, to be presented at a show-cause hearing set Oct. 13-14 before the LLA, which could punish the business by revoking or suspending its liquor license for violating public health orders stemming from the pandemic.
Either measure could kill the basement nightclub at 204 S. Galena St., argued lawyer Chris Bryan, who has represented the LLC during the proceedings and negotiated the settlement agreement with City Attorney Jim True. The proposal required the LLA’s approval to take fruition.
“If we go to a hearing and this license is suspended or revoked, the outcome of that is going to be the unemployment of dozens of people,” Bryan said, noting Pitkin County’s 9.4% jobless rate in July, the fourth highest in Colorado.
He added, “Hospitality is suffering greatly during COVID. We believe that suspension or revocation will doom this business, render another building empty in downtown Aspen, and put people on the unemployment rolls.”
Late last week and in advance of Wednesday’s video conference with the LLA, the city provided LLA members the body-camera video footage as well as point-of-sales receipts for the club from when the infractions allegedly occurred.
Police alleged that on the night of July 31 and early morning of Aug. 1, the nightclub broke multiple city, county and state public health orders related to the pandemic by serving alcohol after 10 p.m., allowing patrons to remain on the premises between midnight and 6 a.m., not having customers and employees wear masks, operating the bar without food service, and exceeding capacity requirements.
After reviewing police video evidence showing what appeared to be the nightclub’s ignoring public health orders in place at the time, LLA member Amos Underwood said he could not support the agreement. Board chair Bill Murphy was more succinct.
“I personally believe my no vote is not going to change,” Murphy said.
LLA members Phil Golden and Bryan Semel voted to approve the settlement.
A majority of the board’s approval for the agreement — or three of the four votes cast — would have resulted in 45 days of probation for the nightclub as well as the removal of general manager Andrew Sandler from both its liquor license and the LLC’s corporate structure.
Other aspects of the agreement included banishing Sandler from the club’s premises for 30 days and Bootsys remaining closed until health restrictions were lifted to allow bars to operate.
“That is not a good outcome for the people that my client’s business employs,” Bryan said. “We do believe that there needs to be some discipline here and that’s why the stipulation attempts to do that with respect to Mr. Sandler.”
Innocent employees also could lose their jobs over this, Bryan said.
“We don’t think that the collateral damage should include people who work there, who through no fault of their own are now going to find themselves unemployed if this board takes this to a suspension or revocation proceeding, and then either revokes or suspends the license. That will cause the business to close, to abandon its lease, and for all of these people to be without jobs and looking for jobs during the offseason when there are not many jobs available.”
At one point of the meeting, Underwood said he could be agreeable to the terms on a number of conditions. That included not placing McDaniel in charge, lengthening the Sandler ban from 30 days to 90 days, and start the probationary period once the bar can legally open under new health orders. The agreement had the probation starting Sept. 4 at the latest.
“I’m OK with the 45 days, but I think it should be 45 days once Bootsy Bellows is open, not starting today when it is not open,” he said.
Underwood said his underlying problem with McDaniel is that he was part of the very Bootsy Bellows staff that permitted the alleged infractions to occur. McDaniel, to his credit, was transparent with police the night in question and is qualified to replace Sandler, Bryan countered.
“I think he’s a good person to run this,” he said. “He’s got decades in the hospitality business. I think he was very forthcoming and cooperative with the police, and I think having him on the license would be an important way to keep him accountable and this business.”
Some of Underwood’s suggested alterations were terms Bryan said he could agree to, including what Bryan said was “increasing the period of time that Mr. Sandler is restricted from the premises. I think 30 days is plenty, but we would go up to 60 or we would even consider 90 if that would get this stipulation approved.”
Underwood also said he struggled with the agreement’s language.
“Item No. 4,” he said in reference to the settlement document. “The first two words. There’s no admission of a violation; and after watching those videos, I’m not sure I agree with that at this point.”
Bryan and True explained that there was no admission of wrongdoing in the settlement agreement because that would mean the LLA is drawing a conclusion without due process or hearing any evidence. That prompted Underwood to stick to a no vote without amending the settlement agreement to his liking.
“After listening to Mr. Bryan, I don’t want to take away from their due process, so I’m going to remove my changes on this and stick with my no vote,” he said.
Bryan said the proposed settlement agreement would have been punishment enough.
“With respect to what the outcome here is, let me say this: We believe this stipulation goes after the lack of oversight and possible misconduct by Mr. Andrew Sandler and punishes him,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is not punish people who work as line cooks, and as waitresses, and as bar staff who had nothing to do with the alleged violations of July 31 and Aug. 1.”
LLA members said they would prefer next month’s two-day hearing to be held in person — as opposed to the ones virtually held this week and Aug. 26. The Wheeler Opera House was mentioned as a potential venue with social distancing, a restricted crowd size and other measures in place.
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