Washington County liquor officials on Wednesday ordered the owner of El Palenque Cantina in Hagerstown to pay a $2,500 fine because of multiple complaints that were made against the downtown bar and restaurant earlier this year.
The Board of License Commissioners for Washington County, known as the liquor board, also voted to suspend the liquor license of Jose Arias, El Palenque’s owner, for 60 days.
Robert Everhart, liquor board chairman, said after the hearing that Arias has 30 days to pay the fine or file an appeal at Washington County Circuit Court. Until then, Arias will be allowed to serve alcohol.
Everhart said the suspension will be enforced if Arias agrees to pay the fine, or if he files an appeal and loses.
The liquor board held a hearing Wednesday to listen to complaints against El Palenque from the Hagerstown Police Department and residents who live in the same neighborhood as the bar in the 200 block of East Franklin Street.
Sgt. Eric Knode said police have responded to multiple reports of assaults, drug violations, thefts and weapons complaints at the establishment since early this year.
He said the police department has met with Arias on numerous occasions to discuss ways to abate the problems, but they continue to occur.
“I met with (Police Chief Arthur Smith) about it, and he is not opposed to working with the owners of El Palenque,” Knode said. “It’s just his opinion that they’re past the point of being coached anymore.”
Two residents testified that El Palenque has been a sore spot in the neighborhood. They said they were concerned about their safety by coming forward.
“I feel like I am going to be marked now,” one of the residents said.
They complained that the bar plays loud music and patrons leave bottles on the ground. The residents said that on a number of occasions, intoxicated people from the bar have sat on their porch and damaged their property.
“It’s maddening,” one of the residents said.
Arias and his attorney, Arthur Schneider, countered the claims.
Arias said the bottles and trash on the ground came from other places.
Schneider said he sympathized with the residents, but said the problem spanned several blocks in the neighborhood — not just in the area of the bar.
“It’s a problem that we acknowledge, it’s not ours particularly, but it’s a problem,” he said.
Schneider said Arias calls the police when there’s a problem, and praised officers for doing the best they can in a tough area.
In their closing comments, the three-member liquor board said that punishing El Palenque would be in the best interest of the community.
“This is (Arias’) fourth appearance here today, in a year and a half before us, and not on good terms,” liquor board Treasurer Charles Mades said.