Law enforcement and city Councilman Bruce Kraus say Levelz Sports Lounge in the 1800 block of East Carson Street brings danger to the South Side.
By Moriah Balingit Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In late October, a massive fight broke out at Levelz Sports Lounge, a bar with an inconspicuous storefront in the 1800 block of East Carson Street.
Cmdr. Catherine McNeilly of Zone 3 said the brawl drained the district of resources as officers rushed to the scene to diffuse the situation. Ultimately, only one arrest was made, but officers had to deploy pepper spray to disperse unruly patrons.
Now, there's another fight brewing, one that pits the bar against law enforcement and city Councilman Bruce Kraus, who say the establishment brings danger to East Carson Street and is a strain on the zone's police resources. Cmdr. McNeilly has linked thefts, fights and sexual assaults to the establishment.
Mr. Kraus plans to bring this fight to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which is reviewing a liquor license transfer application between the company that currently owns the bar, Second String LLC, and a new company, ZHP Enterprises. The license would remain at Levelz.
Charles Caputo, the attorney for the bar's owner, took issue with that characterization and said he was unaware of any of the problems Cmdr. McNeilly raised. He said he does not believe the establishment is a "nuisance bar."
None of the officers for either company could be reached for comment.
But Cmdr. McNeilly said the bar is "on the radar" of the county's Nuisance Bar Task Force and members of the district attorney's office have met with the bar owners, urging them to clean up their act.
Mr. Kraus filed a petition objecting to the license transfer in early January, saying he did not believe the new company would be any more responsible than the current one, in part because its roster of officers is nearly identical. Second String LLC and ZHP Enterprises share three officers out of four, records show.
Mr. Kraus' petition comes in the midst of a heavy-duty weekend enforcement effort on the South Side that started Jan. 18. The city has deployed scores of police officers along with firefighters and building inspectors to ensure establishments are operating up to code and abiding by occupancy limits and patrons are parking and partying legally.
Mr. Kraus said he hopes to get "my day in court" to air his concerns about Levelz, even though it will have no effect on whether the bar stays in operation.
If the board decides to deny the transfer, the license will remain with the company currently holding it.
"If the PLCB is not notified of concerns of the community ... then these licenses will continue to operate problematically," he said.
Cmdr. McNeilly wrote a letter accompanying Mr. Kraus' petition, expressing her "strong objection" to the transfer.
The bar -- which already has multiple citations on its record -- was cited again Jan. 25 for failing to properly display its liquor license, failing to maintain cleaning records for its tap system, failing to "maintain complete and truthful records" and operating a gambling device.
Liquor Control Enforcement said the violations were observed on multiple dates between early December and early January.
The license transfer cannot be processed until the citation is adjudicated.
Records show the bar received four citations for serving alcohol to underage patrons and a citation for allowing patrons to remain at the bar for more than a half-hour past closing time in 2011. For the citations, it paid $9,050 in fines and twice had its license suspended for a day.
Even with the citations, attorney R.J. O'Hara, a liquor law expert, said that Mr. Kraus faces an uphill battle in swaying the board to deny the transfer.
The bar, however, will reap benefits if the board approves the transfer because it will erase its lengthy history of citations.
Mr. O'Hara said that if the board suspects a new company was created merely to erase an enforcement history, it will object to the transfer. Mr. Caputo said there are "legitimate business reasons" behind the creation of ZHP Enterprises, although he declined to disclose them.
"It is not to erase their citation history," he said.