LINCOLN — The Nebraska Liquor Control Commission yanked the liquor license of an Old Market bar with a troubled history Thursday.
Commission members voted 2-1 to cancel the license of Maria Sangria, a restaurant and bar at 11th and Farnam Streets.
Commissioner Bob Batt of Omaha offered the cancellation motion, saying he believes the bar has a pattern of violating the conditions placed on its license.
“Not once this morning have I heard this licensee accept one ounce of responsibility for anything that has occurred,” he said.
But Jeremy Jorgenson, attorney for owner Maria Scalise, vowed to appeal the decision to the District Court.
He argued that the state did not present sufficient evidence to prove the alleged violation that was the subject of the Thursday hearing. He said he doesn't know what other violations Batt was talking about.
“I think there is an absolute lack of proof that Maria did anything to violate her liquor license,” he said.
Maria Sangria was granted a liquor license on March 13 of this year. The establishment previously operated as Denim and Diamonds.
The liquor commission approved Maria Sangria's license on the condition that it would operate without involvement by Scalise's son, Nick, and without using outside party promoters.
City and state officials have linked Old Market crowd disturbances and fights in the 11th and Farnam Streets area to the establishment. The owner has disputed the link, saying that trouble often spills out of other watering holes in the area.
The commission heard evidence about two such disturbances Thursday.
One involved a street fight in front of the bar near closing time on March 2. The other was a situation on March 3 in which a Maria Sangria employee sought help from Omaha police controlling bar patrons.
In both cases, police officers testified about Maria Sangria security employees using some type of Mace or pepper spray to deal with the situation.
Jorgenson questioned whether the first situation could be blamed on Maria Sangria, given the number of other bars in the vicinity and the number of teenagers who hang out at the nearby Gene Leahy Mall.
The commission found the bar guilty of license violations in both cases and suspended its liquor license for a total of 15 days. Bars typically can pay off license suspensions and continue operating.
The license cancellation motion followed evidence in a third case, which alleged that Scalise had violated her agreement not to use outside promoters.
State Patrol Investigator Paul Smoot testified that he had found a Facebook promotion for a Black/White Soiree to be held July 3 at the bar.
The promotional material offered advance sales of VIP tables, which Smoot said indicated that an outside promoter was involved.
Such promoters typically keep door charges, while the establishment gets the proceeds from food and drinks sold.
Scalise said that she has never agreed to let others collect door charges and did not know about the advertised event. She said she has invested her life savings into the restaurant and bar and takes the license conditions seriously.
Jorgenson said he hopes Maria Sangria can keep its liquor license while the appeal is pending in district court.
The Omaha City Council also plans hearings on the bar's future, based on a relatively new city nuisance prevention ordinance.