Busted Bar Bites Back

Author: Ed Cohen

It’s been happening every year lately: Word spreads among students that a particular bar is easy to get into if you’re under the legal drinking age (21). The bar is raided. Law enforcement personnel discover scores of underage students inside holding fake IDs. The bar is forced to close or give up its liquor license as punishment. Another massive raid happened at a bar near campus in January, except this time the bar is fighting back—against students. A raid at The Boat Club on North Hill Street in South Bend found more than 200 minors inside, most of them Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students. In cases involving so many violations, the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission typically orders the bar’s owner to surrender the liquor license or sell the business. While waiting to see if the same fate awaits The Boat Club, however, the company that operates the bar, Millennium Club Inc., is suing the cited minors in small-claims court. The lawsuits argue that the minors are to blame for the business’s demise because they misrepresented themselves and should therefore be compelled to compensate the owner. The suits ask for $3,000 in damages from each student. A University official familiar with the case said he hadn’t heard of this tactic being tried in connection with a local bar bust before. The argument has apparently been made in cases elsewhere, however, with the courts generally not buying it. Were the courts to agree with the bar’s owner, the possibility future legal action might discourage underage students from trying to get into bars using fake IDs. But it could also act as an insurance policy for unscrupulous bar owners and become an incentive to allow underage drinking. According to Ed Sullivan, a local attorney retained by 40 Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students, hearing dates on the lawsuits have been set for August. But these probably won’t go forward because the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission is not expected to have resolved its case against the bar owner by then. The court isn’t likely to listen to arguments for damages until the bar can show what damages it has suffered. A phone call to the attorney representing the bar’s owner seeking comment was not returned. In a separate matter, in late April law enforcement officers raided The Library Irish Pub on East Wayne Street in downtown South Bend and issued citations to dozens more patrons for underage drinking and possession of fake IDs. In October 2000, they raided the same address, when it was known as Finnegan’s Irish Pub, and issued 147 citations. Because of the incident, the bar’s owners were forced to sell Finnegan’s and the bar was renamed.