Vidalia leaders delay decision on Danny’s Lounge

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 8, 2009

VIDALIA — After more than an hour of discussion, the Vidalia board of aldermen decided that they would meet one more time to discuss the future of Danny’s Lounge — April 23.

That’s the day after a state committee will review an alleged violation that occurred at the club Jan. 11.

Owner Sandra White said the business was cited by the state alcohol board at that time because the club hosted a party that included the serving of alcohol while they did not have a local alcohol permit.

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It was an honest mistake on the owners’ part, White said.

“Someone had a party, and we allowed them to bring their own alcohol,” she said.

The owners did not realize that with their license revoked no alcohol was allowed at the business at all, White said.

“Have you ever not been aware of something?” she said. “It wasn’t because of arrogance (on our part) that alcohol was on the premises.”

In the past, the club’s liquor license had lapsed due to a paperwork error, and patrons had been allowed to bring alcohol onto the site then, and White said she had been under the impression that the club could operate under a similar manner this time.

After White and the aldermen exchanged questions and answers about the January violation, the aldermen ultimately decided that making a decision before the state hearing — which will be April 22 — would be premature.

The board of aldermen first revoked the nightclub’s liquor license in December on the mayor’s recommendation, but the issue came to the forefront last July, when Fire Chief Jack Langston said he was uncomfortable sending first responders to the nightclub because of its reputation.

The club’s owners have responded, however, that its reputation is not only undeserved, but the result of dishonest propaganda. Some of the police reports connected to the club didn’t happen or even originate there, they said.

Alderman Triand “Tron” McCoy said when he was first presented with 37 police reports about the club, he was under the impression that they had happened since last July, when in fact they dated back several years.

In other instances, they weren’t crimes that could be connected to the club, he said.

“After reading the reports, there are some incidents where people were cited for not having proper driver’s licenses,” McCoy said.

Out of the 37 reports provided, only 10 or 12 could be connected to the club, he said.

“Any incident of any magnitude needs to be addressed, but when you hear 37 and there are only 10 or 12 (reports connected to the club), I encourage each board member to do as I did and look at some of the reports,” McCoy said.

Alderman Maureen “Mo” Saunders said she believes it would only be fair to the business that reports be accurate.

Alderman Richard “Ricky” Knapp said he has only received two phone calls about the matter.

“I am kind of starving for information,” he said.

White said she would like to be able to call in the police if the business needed them without being vilified.

“As a business owner, I reserve the right to refuse service and ask someone to leave the property without being held accountable,” she said.

At one point, White became emotional.

“We are business owners who take pride in operating a law abiding business,” she said.

Between the months of July and December, the owners and the city both expressed a desire to meet and come to some sort of agreement, but the meeting didn’t happen until after the city revoked the bar’s license. Why that never happened depends on which side is telling the story.

The meeting following the revocation was between White and two aldermen, the mayor, police chief and city attorney.

During that unofficial meeting, the owners and city officials discussed having two security people at the club per hundred people, barring anyone from bringing drinks in or out, having both police and owners file reports about incidents at the club, having a metal detector at the door, barring women from carrying purses in and having two aldermen meet once a month to review complaints, City Attorney Jack McLemore said.

Mayor Hyram Copeland said it seemed like White was making an effort to correct problems.

“Some of the problem may be ours and some of it may be yours, but our first obligation is safety and security,” Copeland said. “If someone gets hurt or killed, I feel like the general public will hold this city responsible because of this occurring.”

Copeland wanted to form a committee to review the issues and wait until the July liquor license renewals before making a decision.

“The last thing we want to do is close a business,” he said.

Regardless of the decision, Copeland told White any issues the club’s owners have with the Vidalia police would be resolved.

“Let me assure you that when we finish these issues you will have 100 percent support from the Vidalia Police Department, but in return we want 100 percent support from Danny’s Lounge,” Copeland said.

The nightclub is currently closed for remodeling, and White said her goal is to reopen it with more of a lounge atmosphere in May.

The revamped atmosphere will be more geared for patrons who want to come in, have hors d’oeuvres and spend a few hours with chatting with friends, White said.

The change will be one that will hopefully keep troublemakers away, she said.

“If they don’t want to come out and listen to some music, they won’t be there,” she said.

White challenged the aldermen to come out and try the restaurant.

“Maybe you can order some hors d’oeuvres and we can have them dropped off and you can try them,” she said.

The plan to try to attract an older, more mature clientele is a refreshing one, McCoy said.

“The outlook is hopeful based on their future plans,” he said.

The special meeting will be at 6 p.m.