Harford's liquor compliance results mixed, with 2015 off to a bad start, liquor board says

Posted Jan 19, 2015 - The majority of Harford County businesses passed a liquor compliance test last year, although 2014 closed on a bad note with half of the businesses tested, including two new ones, failing.

Harford liquor inspector Charles Robbins and liquor board member Tom Fidler said Tuesday they were especially surprised to see servers at Birroteca and Steelefish, which opened within the past year, willing to serve alcohol to an underage cadet during a Dec. 20 compliance test.

That test netted 11 local violators, while only 10 passed, for a failure rate of 52 percent.

The licensees of the businesses that failed will be asked to speak before the liquor board.

"I am more concerned with the newer venues or newer licensees that failed," board member Tom Fidler said Tuesday.

He said he believes licensees walk out of the board meetings with "the precise understanding" that they must conduct alcohol training and check IDs for underage customers.

Fidler called it "very, very disappointing" when businesses fail to do that, and he said the board needs to do a better job of addressing the reasons the mistakes happen.

He suspects the holiday season and the rush of serving clients may have contributed to the high failure rate for the Dec. 20 test.

"I think our community deserves better," he said about the tendency of businesses to serve underage clients.

Robbins noted the majority of tested licensees passed compliance tests in 2014. About 73 percent total licensees refused to serve alcohol to minors last year.

The liquor board tested 181 businesses last year but only 35 in 2013, and 118 in 2012, he said.

In 2013, the passing rate was a very high 94 percent by the end of the year. In 2012, 83 percent passed. Robbins said he didn't have the manpower to do as many compliance checks in 2013.

The first such test in 2014, done on Jan. 23, got a very low passing rate of 61 percent. An Aug. 23 test also showed a 58 percent passing rate.

"I don't know if people got complacent," Robbins said about the new failures.

"I intend to start doing a lot more," he said of the compliance tests, adding: "We are spending a lot of time training."

More than half of the businesses failed a compliance test Dec. 20, according to the Harford County Liquor Control Board at its Jan. 7 meeting, its first since before the holidays.

Of the 21 businesses tested, 11 failed, including the new Birroteca restaurant on Route 1 between Fallston and Bel Air.

The Licensees that passed were Applebee's of Bel Air, Bertucci's Italian Restaurant, Bonefish Grill, DuClaw Brewing Company, Greene Turtle, Half Pints, JD's Smokehouse, Otter Point Yacht Club, Sizzling Bombay and VFW 5337 – Harford County Memorial Post.

According to the liquor board, the following licensees failed: Birroteca, Fuji Sushi, Mallet Seafood Restaurant, Pairings Bistro, Pelican Cove, Sakura Japanese Steakhouse, Silks Restaurant at Bulle Rock, Steelefish Grille, VFW 10028 – Aberdeen Memorial Post, Vineyard Wine Bar and Wine World.