Upper End Lounge reopens

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The owner and manager of the Upper End Lounge, 1306 Washington St., have up to 60 days to make changes at the bar or risk having their resort status amended or being shut down.
Mayor George Flaggs Jr. told Larry Ray, representing his wife, Michelle Ray, the manager and leaseholder for the building, and manager Patrick Belden Tuesday to meet with Vicksburg Police Chief Walter Armstrong and deputy chief Bobby Stewart to discuss making the bar safer and preventing problems akin to the disturbance early Monday morning in which one man was arrested and another man was struck in the face with a beer bottle.
The incident, combined with complaints Flaggs received about the bar Sunday night and early Monday morning, forced city officials to close the bar down.
The bar reopened Tuesday, Stewart said.
“Get with Mr. Stewart and you all get together and work out and make a decision on security arrangements or whatever you all are going to do,” Flaggs told Belden. “I want it controlled. I’m willing to give you the opportunity to control your own and keep in business.”
Stewart said he discussed ways improve security and ways to deter trouble and reduce the number of calls to the bar.
Complaint calls from the bar will be monitored for the next 60 days, adding tougher action will be taken if things don’t calm down, Flaggs said.
Flaggs’ comments came after a Tuesday morning meeting between the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, Ray, Belden, Belden’s attorney, McLain Walker, building owner Harry Sharp, and Armstrong and Stewart to discuss the bar’s operation in the wake of the disturbance.
Sharp recommended Ray and Belden work with the authorities.
“I know we can reach a happy medium,” he said.
During the meeting, Armstrong said a check of emergency call records showed 122 disturbance calls from the Upper End from July 1 through Sunday, with 52 of them between 2 and 6 a.m.
Thirty-nine of the calls, he said, involved disturbances, fights, loud music and assaults, with 30 of those calls coming between 2 and 6 a.m. Another 56 of the calls came from officers either patrolling in the area or walking through the bar.
Calls about disturbances, fights, loud music and assaults during the same time period from the 1100 to the 1700 block of Washington Street totaled 79 logged calls with 36 logged calls between 2 and 6 a.m. Monday’s incident happened between 2 and 3 a.m., according to text messages Flaggs said he received from a dowtown resident.
The Upper End has resort status, a designation from the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board that allows a bar to serve alcohol 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The board is overseen by the Mississippi Department of Revenue.
Flaggs said he wanted to avoid closing the business, “but if the volume of calls continues, and police keep having to come down there, we have no other choice but to use the (city’s) nuisance law, or we’ll have to go to ABC and ask them to restrict your hours.”
Flaggs called the meeting Monday after the early morning melee that resulted in seven of the city’s nine police officers working in the city being called to clear the area. Armstrong said Monday’s incident was the second time in as many weeks that officers were called to break up a disturbance downtown.
The other incident occurred Jan. 19 at Clay and Washington Streets, and also involved most of the officers on that shift.
“At the rate we’re going, we can’t sustain what’s happening downtown,” Armstrong said.
He said a police officer is assigned to the downtown area from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday through Sunday to monitor activity at the bars and handle disturbance calls.
“We have taken an officer off the street and placed him downtown instead of patrolling the rest of the city because of the call volume that we’re now receiving from the upper end of Washington Street,” he said.
Armstrong reviewed the reports from the Monday morning disturbance, discussing the arrest of one customer for disorderly conduct involved in an argument with a security guard, and another customer being hit in the face by a beer bottle.
He said the beer bottle incident occurred as customers were being asked to leave.
Belden disagreed, saying the bottle incident occurred before police were called to the bar for the argument. He said the two men involved in the beer bottle assault were escorted out of the bar by a security guard, and the argument occurred after. Also, he said, his security people are off-duty Jackson police officers.
He said he became upset when officers ordered the bar closed because they would not tell him why.
Belden said he has been trying to keep the noise from the club down, adding he would keep activity at his bar under control and try to close at an earlier hour.
“Nobody wants to go to a dangerous club,” he said.
“It’s in your hands now,” Flaggs told him. “The ball is in your court.”

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About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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