Five months after Boulder's Beverage Licensing Authority renewed K's China's liquor license with a series of strict conditions attached, the authority handed the University Hill-area bar a 3-day license suspension for violating two of those conditions.
Following nearly six hours of testimony that mirrored the 9-hour hearing at which the K's license was renewed in September, the authority, shortly after midnight on Thursday, voted 3 to 2 to in favor of the suspension--which will be served on Jan. 26-28.
The authority found K's China, 1325 Broadway, violated two stipulations of its license on two occasions -- Oct. 27 and Nov. 2 -- when staff did not ask for IDs or place stamps on the hands of non-uniformed law enforcement officers who entered the establishment on those dates. K's will face an additional 12-day suspension if found to be in violation of any other city liquor regulations over the next year, after Thursday's vote.
"I do think that a suspension is in order," authority member Dave Zessin said before he and members Lisa Spalding and Harriet Vincent Barker voted in favor of the suspension. "I think that this authority was so very, very clear in what needed to happen (in September) and it's clear what did not happen."
K's owner, Bo Mai, however, using words like "high-handed" and "mean," saw Thursday's penalty as another unfair step city officials have taken against the bar and restaurant. While Mai in September said he wanted to carry on running the business for the good of his dedicated employees, he said Thursday's ruling made him wonder if he can take much more.
"I feel like this is totally unreasonable and made me really mad," he said. "Tonight, when I look at this, I really want to go."
In both of the instances that resulted in Thursday's vote, the officers did not attempt to purchase any liquor, according to their testimony. Boulder police Officer Beverly Bookout was one of the officers not carded on Oct. 27. She testified that she went to other Boulder bars that night, including Absinthe House and the Walrus Saloon, and was not asked for ID at those establishments either.
K's bar manager Kyle McNamara testified that in the second instance, on Nov. 2, he recognized Kelly Haralson, the state liquor enforcement official, from previous licensing hearings and that is why he admittedly did not ask her for her ID when he saw her in the bar.
Despite the suspension, K's faced much more serious charges at the outset of the hearing, before it took a surprising turn when a key witness for the city -- expected to testify that he drank at the bar while underage -- testified that he had never set foot inside the establishment.
The most serious suspected violations, serving alcohol to a minor, failure to check a second form of ID from a patron and serving two drinks at one time to a patron, stem from the evening of Oct. 24. That is when, according to Boulder assistant city attorney Mike Whitney, 19-year-old Will Keener was served alcohol at the embattled bar.
Keener was cited by Boulder police for being a minor in possession of alcohol after two officers spotted him urinating in front of Abo's Pizza on the Hill, 1124 13th St.
Whitney said in his opening statement Wednesday that testimony from Keener during the hearing would show that he used a fake ID to enter K's China on Oct. 24.
Keener was also expected to testify that he was never asked for a second ID and was served a beer and a shot of whiskey at the same time, both of which are violations of K's conditional liquor license.
However, when Keener was called to testify Wednesday, he told the Beverage Licensing Authority that he had never been inside K's China, and that on Oct. 24 he had been drinking at a house party on University Hill and at Abo's.
Whitney, who was clearly not expecting Keener's testimony, asked him why he would lie about where he was that night.
"'Cause I know that the police department and/or the city don't really like K's China that much," Keener replied. "It was the easiest thing to kind of get the attention off of me."
When Whitney asked Keener why he changed his story, he replied, "I guess I wanted to come here and ... it's not exactly the easiest thing to do to admit that you lied. I'm sure everyone in this room can agree with that."
More drama came when city licensing clerk Mishawn Cook reported that a woman seated in the hearing room had gone outside and spoken to some of the officially sworn witnesses who were supposed to be sequestered and not discussing testimony.
The hearing's second witness was Abo's bartender Emily Hanson. Hanson testified that Keener was seated at the Abo's bar when she started her shift at 6 p.m. Oct. 24. She said she assumed he was of age and served him a beer or two over the course of the evening.
While she was not precise about the timing of the night, including a period during which she said Keener left the bar, she did recall finding out he was a minor after people outside saw him being contacted by police. She further testified that Keener, who was friends with one of the staff members at Abo's, came back after being ticketed by police to pick up his bicycle.
She said he told the her, "Don't worry, I told them I was drinking at K's."
The two officers who ticketed Keener also testified Wednesday, with one of them noting he went to K's to investigate Keener's claims Oct. 24 and found no probable cause to ticket the bar.
Whitney, in his closing argument, asked the authority to consider which statements of Keener's were more credible, those he made while drunk the night of his ticketing, or Wednesday, after he admitted he was encouraged to testify by at least one K's supporter. Whitney noted that Keener offered the information he was drinking at K's, a fundamentally incriminating statement, when he could have said nothing at all.
K's attorney Adam Stapen countered that Keener incriminated himself to a greater extent when he admitted to lying to police while he was under oath at Wednesday's hearing. Stapen said Keener's motive for lying that night was likely to protect a friend who worked at Abo's, where he had actually been drinking.
Eventually the authority voted unanimously to drop the three violations related to Keener's story, noting the city did not provided enough evidence to prove he was ever at K's, though some members said it was still possible he was there.
Authority member Tim McMurray actually moved that all seven violations be dropped during Wednesday's hearing, though he was unable to find a second for that motion. He contended that the stipulation requiring K's to check patrons' ages could be read to mean that an ID only be required once a patron attempts to buy alcohol, not simply when they walk in the door.
McMurray noted that vaguely worded stipulation, if construed to mean that all people must show ID to enter K's premises, might bar young children who may have come there to eat with their families.
The other four board members disagreed with him, noting the authority made the goals of the conditions known at the hearing in September.
Mai, following the hearing, had positive things to say about Keener.
"I think he wanted to correct his mistake," Mai said. "It was brave."
He did not have anything positive to say about the city's stipulations, which require K's to be the only bar in Boulder to purchase an ID scanner, among other special requirements. He said the language is vague, and even after Wednesday's hearing he is unclear how the rules should be enforced.
"With this new ambiguous regulation we don't know what to do. We have to check the ID of every person, even if they come in for food. Who wants to show their ID at a restaurant?" Mai said. "I really feel upset that they have a special guideline, only for K's China."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328 or firstname.lastname@example.org.