Local bars rev up for holiday gatherings

The bigger the venue, the more calls for service

By: Chris Jackett | Royal Oak Review | Published December 12, 2012

ROYAL OAK — With people home for the holidays and the season meriting celebrations, the bars downtown are likely to see a small surge of visitors in the next few weeks.

The number of calls for police service from 2006-11 were recently released as part of an action item at the Dec. 3 City Commission meeting, revealing that some of the city’s largest bars have some of the most incidents. However, the six years listed also show up-and-down trends from one venue to another.

Of the 61 venues on the list of liquor-license establishments, five were closed by 2011, but just four of the remaining 56 did not call police a single time last year.

With an employee-inclusive capacity of 1,300, the Royal Oak Music Theatre can host the largest gathering of the various venues, but has also seen a steady rise in issues requiring police assistance. After having just 11 issues each in 2006 and 2007, there were 38 in 2010 and 52 in 2011.

In contrast, Woody’s Diner, with the second-largest capacity of 852 — including the 251-person seasonal roof — has seen a steady decline in issues during the past three years: from 84 in 2009 to 76 in 2010 and 63 in 2011. Woody’s, Fifth Avenue Billiards and O’Tooles all sit next to one another along the train tracks at Fifth and Center streets.

“A lot of calls for service are to the area of Fifth and Center. With the addition of BlackFinn, Tequila Blue, you get a lot to that area,” Royal Oak Police Lt. Tom Goad said. “We’ve sort of developed a strategy for that area. Because of the number of officers we’re down to, we do strategically plan how many officers we have out there on a Friday or Saturday.”

Goad said with the city becoming a more popular destination on the weekend, the short-staffed police have had to develop a strong line of communication with owners and door personnel at the various establishments to ensure everyone’s safety.

“We have a very good working relationship with everyone who works at the bars,” Goad said. “We encourage the door people to call us before there’s a problem. We wouldn’t want a fight just to break out.”

The top five calls for service in 2011 were to Woody’s (63), the Music Theatre (52), Fifth Avenue Billiards (40), National Coney Island (39) and Mr. B’s Pub (34). BlackFinn (32), O’Tooles (31), Emagine (31) and Bastone Brewery (25) also had more than 20 calls to police, while National Coney Island sold its liquor license last year.

By contrast, in 2006, the top five were Woody’s (46), National Coney Island (41), Fifth Avenue (41), O’Tooles (31) and Mr. B’s (29), with just Pronto! Café (22) and Bastone (21) topping the 20-call mark, as well. BlackFinn and Emagine opened in 2008 and 2011, respectively.

Many of those are large facilities, taking in 613 people at Emagine, 604 at Mr. B’s (including 50 outdoor spots and 120 basement spots), about 550 at Fifth Avenue and about 400 at BlackFinn, including seasonal spaces.

“I don’t know if I could actually tell you I could identify any kind of a trend,” Goad said. “We try to identify when we’re going to be busy downtown.”

Some businesses, such as Mr. B’s, have taken steps to reduce security issues at their venues, such as imposing stricter serving requirements. Additionally, Mr. B’s brought on a new security staff last month to assist their doorman, who has confiscated 1,295 fake IDs in the past 15 years.

“Even as security companies come and go, I insist this guy stay with me because he’s teaching them things,” John Dempster, owner/general manager of Mr. B’s, told the City Commission last week. “I will spare no expense at ensuring the safety of the guest, the safety of my staff and the public in general, in terms of service of alcohol.”

Since calling police just 18 and 12 times, respectively, in 2008 and 2009, the change in security has been brought on by 33 and 34 calls in 2010 and 2011. Dempster said there have been 16-17 calls so far this year.

“I recently have replaced my security company with guys who are little bit more professional trained and that type of thing,” Dempster said, noting that many have law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services backgrounds. “A few of those issues, I don’t think we’ll have any issues with guys bumping heads with actual staff. About a month into it, these guys are looking really good. Our policies in terms of alcohol service are second to none.”

Dempster told the commission that any calls are too many calls, but noted that larger venues like his are often blamed for calls from outside the building.

“Even the chief at the time said my address is bumped to a lot of things that happen out on Main Street, or in the Williams Street lot, Third Street or even as far as the Second Street lot, just by the nature of the call,” Dempster said of a past LCC renewal meeting. “The city’s grown and there’s a lot more people out there.”

Goad also noted that newer parking restrictions on party buses have helped alleviate traffic issues in the busiest areas.

To view the full list, visit www.ci.royal-oak.mi.us.