Boulder has capped the mighty "Volcano" at K's China on University Hill.
Just before 1:30 a.m. Thursday, the city's Beverage Licensing Authority -- following a marathon nine-hour hearing -- voted to renew the liquor license for K's China, but imposed a series of strict conditions, including limits on music volume and the amount of alcohol the bar can pour into a single drink.
The new rules mean the Hill bar's famed Volcano -- five shots of liquor mixed with 42 ounces of juice, supposedly to be shared with a group of people -- is no more.
Bo Mai, owner of K's China, said the new restrictions could be enough to put him out of business.
"Under such conditions, it's impossible to do business," Mai said after the meeting. "They have music. I don't have music. They have drink specials. I don't have drink specials. What else (do) you go to (a) bar for? To sit and look at the scenery?"
K's China, 1325 Broadway, can actually still have music, provided it doesn't get any louder than 60 decibels at the edge of its rooftop patio. Beverage Licensing Authority members conceded at the last minute to Mai's plea that he be allowed to have DJs spin there, provided they stay within the noise requirements.
Under the new restrictions, K's China cannot serve mixed drinks with more than two shots of hard liquor in them -- such as the Volcano -- and cannot offer discounted drinks after 10 p.m.
K's China will have to purchase a scanner to check IDs and ask patrons for secondary forms of ID. It will have to provide sales records to the city each month to ensure it's selling enough food to meet the terms of its liquor license. Patrons will not be allowed to have any glass or metal beverage containers -- including beer in bottles -- on the rooftop patio.
With one exception, liquor control board members said their intention is not to put K's China out of business, but to change its culture.
"It's important for you to understand that you've gone so far to one side, that a lot of these stipulations are designed to change the culture of your establishment," said BLA member Tim McMurray, owner of Mountain Sun Pub and Breweries.
McMurray said K's China might attract a better clientele under the new rules and be more successful in the long run.
Under the microscope
K's China came under scrutiny when its liquor license first came up for renewal in June.
Boulder officials are in the midst of examining all the city's policies toward alcohol with an eye toward using regulatory authority to reduce alcohol abuse, especially among University of Colorado students, and improve quality of life in the University Hill neighborhood.
K's China hadn't been cited for any liquor law violation, but the Beverage Licensing Authority took the unusual step earlier this year of issuing the bar and restaurant a 15-day suspension based on verbal testimony. In response, the owners of K's China sued Boulder, alleging the board made "an end run around the rules of evidence."
K's China agreed to a number of conditions at a July liquor board meeting, most of which will continue to be in effect under the license renewal. Those include installation of netting along the eastern boundary of the rooftop deck, monthly check-ins with the liquor board, additional staffing and noise-reduction steps.
However, those interim conditions still had allowed K's China to serve its famous Volcano, provided it was purchased by a group, and allowed more flexibility with happy hour specials.
At the July meeting, the board allowed K's to resume serving liquor, but a final decision was postponed until Wednesday night's meeting.
Boulder Assistant City Attorney Michael Whitney called on a series of Boulder police officers to discuss noise complaints and underage drinking at the Hill restaurant and bar, while Mai and K's China bar manager Kyle McNamara asked employees to discuss the measures they took to check IDs and cut off obviously drunken patrons.
Whitney said the city did not oppose renewal, but provided the testimony as information for the board.
Boulder police Officer Michael Marquez described an incident in which he ticketed a very drunk underage patron with multiple IDs.
"She was very upset that she was getting a ticket, and she was adamant that she was not the only underage person in the bar," he said. "She said it's a well known fact among the people who are under 21 years of age that (K's China) is a place you can go and be served."
Under questioning from liquor board members and Mai, who was representing himself, Marquez and other Boulder police officers said they did not cite K's China for accepting fake IDs or not looking hard at IDs to see whether they should have been rejected.
Boulder police officers said many of the incidents occurred on busy weekend nights with many other calls.
Officer Sterling Ekwo said K's China staff members were not helpful about allowing him access to the rooftop patio during an incident in which someone threw a pitcher at him from the roof. Officer Rebecca Bostrack described Mai as argumentative and difficult when she responded to a noise complaint.
Kelly Haralson, an investigator with the Colorado Department of Revenue's Liquor Enforcement Division, said she found several violations during a visit in February, but only issued a warning. The violations, including not having a sign warning minors against drinking visible in the bar, were corrected.
Beverage Licensing Authority member Lisa Spalding argued throughout the night for K's China's license renewal to be denied.
"The biggest thing we could do as an educational tool is to not renew this license," Spalding said. "That would really send a message to the other establishments."
Drop in business
Mai said he made a strong effort to follow the law and wasn't given a chance to succeed. With noise-reduction measures in place, he said K's China has seen a big decrease in business.
He called the Volcano the "traditional product" of K's China.
"It's like saying (a) restaurant (can) not serve sesame chicken," he said.
Helen Wu, Mai's wife and K's China co-owner, asked why the city was bringing up old incidents that didn't stop the bar's liquor license from being renewed in the past.
McNamara, the bar manager, gave emotional testimony about getting sober after being fired for showing up drunk to work and getting arrested. His father was dying of leukemia at the time, and he turned to alcohol. He was rehired after getting sober, and he described helping other staff members and patrons with alcohol problems get sober.
"I believe that helping families is one of the most important aspects of my job," he said.
That prompted liquor board member Harriet Vincent Barker to ask, "Did I hear you correctly?"
After the meeting, Wu said she feels like K's China has been singled out from other Boulder businesses, even those with liquor law violations.
Mai said he fears he will go bankrupt, but he has to do his best for his employees.
"If I quit, I let all these kids down," he said.