Wolf in doghouse, briefly | AspenTimes.com

Wolf in doghouse, briefly

John Colson

The Howling Wolf restaurant and nightclub spent a dry day on Tuesday after receiving a one-day suspension from the Aspen Liquor Licensing Authority for violating city and state liquor codes.

But the bar was expected to be open for business again today, though the club faces a 90-day deadline in its effort to obtain a brewing permit from the federal government.

The Wolf’s management, including owners Steve and Robert Murdock and night manager Paul Levine, were called in for a “show cause” hearing before the liquor board over Levine’s recent guilty plea to serving liquor without a valid license.

The incident, which happened back in April, stems from a celebration of the Wolf’s move from its original location to new digs at the former site of the Flying Dog Brew Pub. But a liquor license transfer had not yet been approved, and while the Wolf’s management thought it was able to operate under the Flying Dog’s old license, state law does not allow such arrangements.

Levine pleaded guilty earlier this year to one charge of violating the city’s liquor codes, and was handed a sentence of one year’s deferred judgment and a $500 fine. Under the plea agreement, if Levine and the Wolf do not violate city or state liquor laws for one year, the court record of the matter will be wiped clean. The club has been operating under a temporary liquor license since early in the summer.

Although the liquor board had the authority to withhold a permanent license, it followed Assistant City Attorney David Hoefer’s recommendation against such a strict punishment. At one point, board member Gary Esary proposed a three-day suspension, to be imposed on weekend days of the Wolf’s choice, but in the end, the one-day suspension was approved by a 3-1 vote.

Board chairman Terry Allen, the lone dissenter, explained his position by saying, “I think it should be more harsh.”

But Esary, who made the motion for the shorter suspension, stressed that it establishes a record for the bar that is not to be taken lightly, implying that the Wolf’s management needs to tighten up its procedures.

“Some of the stuff that’s gone before (a reference to the history of Howling Wolf dealings with the board) is why I’m pushing to suspend here,” Esary said, emphasizing that the bar’s management needs to take the board’s action seriously “or it’s going to get worse. I’m looking at it as an incremental process.”

Levine and the two owners objected to the suspension, maintaining that their bar causes less trouble for police than others in town, specifically referring to a history of fights and other disturbances at The Tippler and liquor license suspensions at several other local clubs over the years.

“You can’t put us at the top of the list of troublemakers,” Levine argued. He said the suspension gives the impression that “we’re worse than these other places where there are brawls. And we’re not.”

“We’re uncomfortable being in the same category as the Downtown Sports Center,” noted co-owner Robert Murdock, referring to a former bar that was busted several years ago over allegations that drugs were being sold openly on the premises. The Sports Center management surrendered its liquor license rather than fight the charges.

“I’m not lumping you with anybody,” countered Esary, adding that in its new location and with stepped-up security, the Wolf has every chance to show itself to be a responsible local business.

“You just have to prove yourself,” remarked board member Bill Murphy. “You got yourselves into this position, and now you’ve got to dig yourselves out.”

As for the future, if the bar’s management fails to obtain the needed brewing permit from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms before the 90-day deadline, the liquor board will have to decide whether to grant an extension for the application process to continue, or require the bar to switch from a “brew-pub” permit to a different kind of liquor license.

Such a switch would entail starting over in the city’s liquor license review process, and could mean the bar would have to close for an undetermined amount of time.


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