The American flag flies outside the civic building in Chamblee, Ga. AJC file photo.
Photo: John Amis
Photo: John Amis

Judge schedules hearing on challenges to new Chamblee bar hours

A hearing is scheduled for next week on a Chamblee bar’s request for an emergency injunction prohibiting the city from enforcing new hours for alcohol sales.

The owners of Mansion Elan and Follies filed separate lawsuits on Tuesday, the same day the new pouring hours went into effect. Liquor can be served until 2 a.m. every night except Sunday, when the cutoff is midnight. Under the old law, Chamblee nightspots could serve alcohol until 3 a.m.

Judge Thomas W. Thrash Jr. is set to hear arguments on Wednesday on Mansion’s request for the injunction. Follies had asked for a similar hearing.

Both clubs say the reduction in pouring hours will cause to irreparable harm and that they should have been told about proposed changes before paying the $6,700 fee for a 2018 liquor license.

In its complaint, Mansion said that Sunday is its biggest night, and most patrons don’t even arrive until after midnight.

“Enforcement of the new ordinance … would cause the Mansion to lose over 50 percent of its revenue and be forced to close its doors,” the club’s attorneys wrote.

A spokeswoman for Chamblee said the city doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

In changing its liquor laws, Chamblee followed a trend in DeKalb County. The DeKalb Board of Commissioners voted in December to end alcohol sales at 2 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 2:30 a.m. from Thursday through Saturday. That affected unincorporated areas of the county, including neighborhoods just south of Chamblee.

Brookhaven, too, rolled back bar sales from 3 a.m. to 2 a.m. That city also approved a controversial new law requiring establishments that plays music using a DJ to pay $100,000 for a liquor license. Follies’ attorney, Cary Wiggins, also represents three Brookhaven nightclubs that are challenging that change in federal court.

In the complaints filed Tuesday, Follies and Mansion said the new law infringes on their free speech, because they play music and music is a form of free speech, and that it violates equal protection provisions because certain restaurants are allowed to remain open 24 hours. They argue that Chamblee should have allowed nightclubs with existing alcohol licenses to be grandfathered in under the old hours.

Mansion is also accusing the city of racial discrimination because most of the nightspots affected by the change have mostly minorities as their clientele.

“We have constitutional questions,” said attorney Leron Rogers, who is representing Mansion. “The law is pretty clear that government should not restrict free speech, and music is a mode of free speech.”

Follies and Mansion are located off of Buford Highway in a business district that was annexed into Chamblee several years ago but after both clubs were already in existence.

Follies also takes issue with raid on the club that the Chamblee Police Department carried out in February. The search occurred just days before the City Council unanimously approved the change in pouring hours.

Follies said the raid was unreasonable and excessive and filed a suit in state court that it later dropped.

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