Ald. Brian Solomon (center) was one of two alders to vote against the R Place license revocation.
After the Madison Common Council voted Tuesday night to revoke the alcohol license for south side saloon R Place on Park, owner Roderick "Rick" Flowers vowed to continue his fight with the city to keep his bar open.
"I'm going to sue them," an upset Flowers said outside the council chambers after the vote. He added that he had already started planning for the court battle in anticipation of Tuesday night's public hearing and vote.
The Alcohol License Review Committee presented the council with a 12-page report Tuesday highlighting 15 specific incidents that took place between spring 2009 and fall 2010.
South side alder Sue Ellingson urged revocation. She said she did not know Flowers personally, but many have vouched for his integrity. However, she said bar owners are responsible not only for what goes on inside their property, but outside of it as well. "Neighbors have complained again and again and I think it's time for this revocation," she said.
The final tally was 15 to 2 to revoke Flowers' license. Alds. Brian Solomon and Marsha Rummel voted against revocation.
Flowers did not dispute the incidents cited in the ALRC report, but said his establishment was being unfairly targeted. R Place on Park is known as being the one of few taverns in Madison with a significant African-American clientele. A number of bar patrons testified against revocation during the public hearing because they felt Flowers was being treated as a scapegoat for the real issue: violence amidst Madison's African-American community.
Addressing the higher rates of crime in the community would take more than closing down one bar, said R Place on Park patron Heidi Rudd.
"Once you close R Place if that's what you choose to do, what are you going to do about the violence in Madison because it's not going to go anywhere," she said to the council.
Rudd asserted that any violence associated with R Place on Park would, if the bar is closed, move on to another establishment.
Others who spoke in support of Flowers echoed Rudd's point, and said the incidents occurring around his bar were caused by a small group of people late at night and sometimes after the bar had already closed. Most of the time, a majority of the supporters said, the bar is very safe and welcoming.
Nathaniel Abrams, a regular patron, said the bar is the only place for the African-American community to gather to tell stories and enjoy its shared culture and music. R Place on Park is known for open mic sessions on Wednesdays that bring out the area's jazz musicians.
Longtime Dane County prosecutor Michael Walsh, a self-proclaimed "old, fat white guy," said he has been going to R Place on Park since it opened in 2006 because he loves the music.
"I have never ever, in all the times I've been there, ever felt unsafe in that bar," Walsh said. "Now I should, I'm a prosecutor, and people there know that, but nonetheless I have never ever felt unsafe on that property."
Speaking directly to Police Chief Noble Wray at one point, Walsh suggested that a stronger police presence around the bar would help deter the kinds of incidents taking place there.
Later in the meeting, Wray said he was not surprised by the outpouring of support for Flowers and the variety of people -- including attorneys, city workers and professors -- who patronize the bar.
It's not the regulars who cause the problems, the chief added. It's the ones he calls the "after-set," who have no connection to Flowers or the community, who come late at night and cause the bulk of complaints made by concerned neighbors in the neighborhood.
More than 230 calls were made to the Madison Police Department about R Place on Park from 2009 to 2010.
Maria Brown and her husband moved to Beld Street near the bar in order to have their children grow up in a multicultural area, she told the council. She said she has seen people get into fights, urinate in public, and engage in drug deals. Her children have awoken to gunshots. Brown said the problems started happening when R Place on Park opened.
She said she was very worried about the most recent incident on Sept. 27 of a man who fired an automatic assault rifle on a car two doors down from the bar.
"I have some concerns and I don't think Mr. Flowers intentionally or willingly brought them to our neighborhood," Brown said, "but what lies before us is these are the problems we're having and our neighborhood is not becoming safer when someone fires 27 shots with an AK-47 in the middle of the night."