Lexington bar owner says he has decided to relocate after fights with neighbors, city official

jmadden@herald-leader.comAugust 15, 2014 

The owner of a Lexington bar says he has decided to relocate after weeks of fighting with neighbors, business owners and the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.

Gerald Mack, owner of the Art Bar, told the Herald-Leader that he was "actively seeking" a new location because neighbors in the Chevy Chase area wouldn't give the nightclub and bar a chance to thrive under his leadership.

"I think it's a clash of subcultures," he said. "I think my customers don't understand the people of Chevy Chase and the subculture of Chevy Chase. And the subculture of Chevy Chase don't understand my customers."

The club, which is located between restaurants and small bars in the 800 block of Euclid Avenue, has gotten a lot of attention recently because of reports of fights, loud noise, trash and shootings. Neighbors rallied against the club and started a petition, and that eventually led to a meeting before city officials who moved up the bar's closing hours.

Mack, who is in the process of finalizing his ownership of the club, said that he is "sometimes dealing with crowds of 250 people or more," and "sometimes idiots do idiotic stuff."

"The people who party at Art Bar feel just as safe as they do if they're downtown at Club Trust," Mack said. "If it was unsafe, the customers would be the first ones to let you know."

Mack said he employs 17 security guards during events at the nightclub — including five who are armed — and he calls the police when things get out of hand. Security cameras can also be seen at the entrance of the club.

Mack said the large crowds can be overwhelming to a neighborhood, but the majority of those people are well-behaved. He said there have been incidents at other clubs, including two fatal shootings last year at Divas Gentlemen's Club on Russell Cave Road, and those clubs are still operating.

Mack said he wishes a conversation could have happened before outrage against the club developed.

According to documents obtained by the Herald-Leader, police were called to the nightclub 40 times from July 26, 2013, through July 21.

Police responded to shootings outside the nightclub on July 13 and Aug. 3.

Both involved altercations inside the club that spilled onto the street, police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said.

Roberts said officers were conducting crowd control as patrons exited the club at the time of both shootings.

A petition was started on MoveOn.org to close the bar. The petition had 294 signatures — six short of their goal — as of Friday.

Patty Abell, a member of the Louisiana Ave. Neighborhood Association, signed the petition and expressed her displeasure on Art Bar's Facebook page after the second shooting.

"I am personally appalled at your patrons and the serious crime they have brought to the bucolic Chevy Chase neighborhood," she wrote. "I am asking for the owners/management to respond to this crime wave they have inflicted upon our neighborhood."

Abell said she was happy to hear the bar was moving.

"While we are relieved that his business and disruptive patrons will be moved out of Chevy Chase, we hope he (Mack) will change his business model," she said. "It will be impossible for his business model to operate as is in any peaceful neighborhood. Thank goodness for our neighborhood that his business is gone and we hope his new location will enjoy a peaceful coexistence with its neighbors."

Tensions between the club and nearby residents have been an issue for about a year and half, said urban county councilwoman Diane Lawless, whose district includes Art Bar, most of downtown Lexington and the University of Kentucky.

Lawless said her office was flooded with complaints about noise, trash and fistfights. The complaints were at the root of a Board of Adjustment meeting on July 25, Lawless said. After hearing complaints and looking at pictures, the Board of Adjustment changed the bar's closing time from 2:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.

Thomas Hickey, a manager at Domino's Pizza, which is down the street from the bar, said he's had multiple run-ins with patrons from the bar. The Domino's owner has even changed the restaurant's hours because of customers entering the lobby drunk and demanding orders, Hickey said.

"They aren't rowdy going in, but they are coming out," Hickey said. "They're overdoing it with the alcohol ... a drunk guy fell and hit his face on the curb."

Fifth District Councilman Bill Farmer, whose family business is next to Art Bar, said the bar at 815 Euclid has changed names over the years, but ownership has remained the same since 2011.

Sims Entertainment Group LLC has owned the nightclub since 2011, according to the Kentucky Secretary of State website.

Phone calls to representatives of Sims Entertainment were not returned. The entertainment group's attorney did not return phone calls.

The club has become a problem only recently, Farmer said.

If you take all of the incarnations "of this piece of property and add them up and combine them, it does not equal what has gone on" recently, he said.

Justin Madden: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @IAmJustinMadden

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