Troubles at Wolf still under review |

Troubles at Wolf still under review

John Colson

Aspen officials are still trying to figure out what to do with the Howling Wolf restaurant and bar, which got into trouble last December over alleged liquor law violations.

The city’s liquor license authority called the bar’s management to a Dec. 1 informal hearing to answer a variety of charges.

According to Aspen police, the bar was guilty of serving patrons after closing time, overserving a patron, and serving drinks in an allegedly illegal “bandit bar” located downstairs from the main serving area.

Police Detective Beth Ufkes, representing the police department at the hearing, also referred to an atmosphere of “distrust” between cops and the bar’s management, claiming bar manager Paul Levine had not been cooperative with the police on some occasions.

Owner Steve Murdock and manager Levine denied serving after hours and overserving their customers, pointing out that the police allegations largely stemmed from Halloween – traditionally a wild holiday in Aspen. They said they did the best they could that night to keep order in the bar, and maintained that customers may have slipped into the Wolf carrying drinks purchased in other bars.

After considerable discussion at the hearing, though, the liquor licensing authority members concluded that the bar had been doing business responsibly.

But Murdock and Levine were warned that they must make a few changes in their operation or face formal disciplinary action.

“You guys [Murdock and Levine] had all the right answers, but the third time you have all the right answers, we’re going to have a problem,” warned board member Gary Esary, before making the motion to issue a conditional warning.

The bar’s management was given until the next liquor board meeting to correct the problems. There has not been a liquor board meeting since Dec. 1, however.

The main issues, according to officials, had to do with the use of a downstairs room that police claim is being used illegally as a lounge; a need for better fire suppression equipment; and the fact that the booze behind the bar could not be locked up at bar time. State law requires that liquor supplies be locked up if a place is to stay open after hours, which the Howling Wolf has done on occasion.

Regarding the downstairs room, Levine and Murdock maintained at the hearing that is it an office and storage space that is offered to band members as a place to relax between sets. They denied that liquor is served there to customers.

According to chief building inspector Stephen Kanipe, he inspected the room and “it was not storage.” Kanipe said he has talked with the bar’s management and they agreed to apply for a building permit that would establish the exact use of the space and make it legal.

Although Levine said last week that he is “in the process” of following Kanipe’s directive, no building permit application had been submitted as of Feb. 12.

As for the other alleged violations, Fire Marshall Ed VanWalraven said the bar’s management has upgraded the sprinkler system to his satisfaction.

The last, and still unresolved significant issue is the locking up of the liquor supply after hours.

The bar management has installed a set of “Venetian blinds” that draw down from the ceiling in front of the shelves of liquor. The blinds are fastened at the bottom with a hook, which Levine said should be sufficient to ward off thirsty clients at the end of a night.

But it is uncertain whether this symbolic closure will be enough to satisfy the city’s liquor law guardians.

Liquor board chairman Terry Allen could not be reached for comment on Monday. Others on the board, however, said they had not heard of any further action planned by the board.

City Clerk Kathryn Koch said she, in conjunction with the city attorney’s office, is planning to send a memo to the board soon to inform them of the status of the Howling Wolf’s case, and ask if there should be further action taken.

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