South bar closes its doors for good after shooting

City manager says he’ll seek to revoke the venue’s liquor license

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published July 17, 2012

 After a recent shooting, South has announced it will close.

After a recent shooting, South has announced it will close.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

It’s arguably one of the most controversial establishments in Birmingham.

Or rather, it was.

The owners of South announced July 17 it will be closing its doors for good after reports of yet another gun incident involving patrons leaving the nightspot.

According to Birmingham Police Chief Don Studt, the shooting occurred July 16 at around 2:15 a.m. Reports say three men left South, 210 S. Old Woodward, and were walking on Merrill Street where they were assaulted by two individuals who had left the bar just minutes before.

A third person, who had been with the two suspects, arrived at the scene in a 2008 Ford Taurus, and saw his friends involved in the fight. He stopped the vehicle and pointed a handgun at the three victims, lighting them with a laser sight. He fired one shot, but did not hit anyone, police said.

The shot was heard by three officers on foot patrol on Old Woodward just south of Merrill. They ran in that direction, and the two suspects were arrested. The driver of the vehicle, who had fled the scene, was apprehended a short time later at the intersection of Henrietta and Brown Street. In the vehicle, officers found a .357-caliber Glock, a .45- caliber Glock and a 9 mm Glock, all of which were loaded.

Reports say there was damage to the Chase Bank on the corner of Old Woodward and Merrill from the bullet, which was found on the sidewalk in front of the former Zuma Coffee Shop on Old Woodward.

The two suspects involved in the fight, 24-year-old Jerry Smith of Southfield and 23-year-old Darnell Ross of Detroit, have been charged with assault and battery and were released, police said.

The suspected shooter, 22-year-old Ryan Smith of Southfield, has been issued a felony charge of carrying a concealed weapon, and misdemeanor charges of malicious destruction to a building and careless discharge of a firearm causing damage.

At the time police released details about the shooting, Kelly Allen, attorney for South, also issued a statement on behalf of the business saying “South Bar has decided, for various reasons, to close and sell the business.”

According to City Manager Robert Bruner, the decision to close South comes as something of a relief to city staff and law enforcement personnel, who’ve taken steps to increase security in the area during latenight hours as a result of other recent incidents associated with the venue.

“Two patrons fired guns in downtown Birmingham this summer. We don’t have a similar problem with patrons of other establishments, so I think the facts speak for themselves.”

The other shooting Bruner referenced happened just outside of South on April 2, when a woman allegedly fired shots from a .22-caliber handgun into the air to intimidate a Southfield woman she had reportedly been arguing with while inside the bar. Though no one was seriously injured at the time, the incident sparked a conversation among Birmingham residents as to whether the downtown area was becoming a hotspot for crime.

Just eight months before, another event occurred at South that put two of the venue’s bouncers in the hospital with stabbing injuries. Bruner said several people in Birmingham called and emailed his office calling for the revocation of South’s liquor license.

Some say that the decision to shut South down wasn’t unexpected. Chris French, also known as DJ iMix, has been the resident Saturday night DJ for the bar since June 2010. He also assisted the management staff with booking entertainment for Friday nights and private events, but said he never worked Sunday nights, and in his opinion, those were the nights that seemed to attract the most trouble.

“The two incidents that forced South to close both happened during their Sunday night parties and is completely unrelated to the Friday and Saturday night crowds,” he said. “Friday and Saturday were primarily a Birmingham crowd. The Sunday crowd drew from surrounding cities. Different promoters draw from different areas, and the promoters on Sunday drew a different crowd.”

Sunday nights at South, dubbed Prestige Sundays Detroit, were handled by several promoters not directly associated with the bar. Comment from any of the promoters could not be obtained by press time.

Eric Ingraham agrees. As a former manager at South, Ingraham says he was well aware that Sunday nights drew an undesirable crowd. When his concerns went unheeded, he says, he left the bar in mid-June. He had worked there since March of 2010.

“During the week, you have a local crowd — they hang out and enjoy dinner on the patio and the ambiance. The promoters on Sundays were drawing an urban crowd, more from Detroit. It was a little bit rougher class, not necessarily the normal clientele.

“Many of us did voice our concerns about these things and the crowd we were inviting into Birmingham. Shortly after we started doing them, it wasn’t hard to see it wasn’t a Birmingham-type event. They were making too much money. It was depressing when I left, and part of the reason I left there was because of the direction it was going.”

When asked if South’s closing brings an end to the drama in the city’s downtown area, Bruner said the story’s not over just yet. He announced in a press release that during the City Commission meeting July 23 there would be a public hearing to consider requesting the revocation of the venue’s liquor license.

“I’m very relieved they’ve closed and the problem isn’t going to happen this Sunday or next Sunday. But we’re still perusing the revocation of that liquor license. That location has a pretty poor history.”

Only the Michigan Liquor Control Commission has the ability to revoke liquor licenses, not municipalities, and if a request is filed with the MLCC to do so, a public hearing must be held on the matter, and written notice of the hearing issued to the licensee 10 days in advance.

Bruner also announced that at that City Commission meeting July 23, a public hearing will likely be scheduled for Aug. 13 to consider amending the city’s zoning ordinance, placing stricter controls on liquor licensed establishments in the future.

Owners of South, doing business as Woodward Tap Inc., could not be reached for comment.