Birmingham's South Bar — the downtown restaurant and bar at the center of a recent public safety debate — will be closing its doors after a shooting by bar patrons early Monday morning.
Birmingham Police say no was injured during the shooting, which began as a fight on Merrill Street soon after South's closing time, and three men from Southfield and Detroit have been arrested in connection with the incident.
According to a statement released by the Birmingham Police Department Tuesday, three men — a 32-year-old from Troy, a 29-year-old from Pontiac and a 28-year-old from Auburn Hills — were leaving South Bar around 2 a.m. Monday when they were assaulted on Merrill Street by two men who had also just left South Bar.
Police later identified the two men as Jerry Smith, 24, of Southfield and Darnell Ross, 23, of Detroit.
According to police, a third man who had been with the two suspects at South Bar earlier that night — later identified as Ryan Smith, 22, of Southfield — drove up in a 2008 Ford Taurus, stopped the car, stepped into the street and pointed a handgun at the original three men, lighting them with the gun's laser sight. Police say he fired one shot, not striking anyone.
Three police officers on foot patrol nearby heard the shot and rushed to the scene, arresting the two men who had allegedly assaulted the first group. The driver fled but was later apprehended at the intersection of Henrietta and Brown Street.
Three handguns were recovered from the car, police say: a .357 Glock, a .45 Glock and a 9mm Glock. A shell casing was recovered from Merrill Street where the shot was fired, while the spent bullet was discovered in front of the former Zuma Coffee House.
Police says there was also damage to the Chase Bank at the corner of Old Woodward and Merrill, as the bullet went through window mullions and scraped the glass.
According to Birmingham police, Jerry Smith and Ross were charged and later released on charges of assault and battery.
Ryan Smith, meanwhile, will be arraigned Tuesday in 48th District Court on charges of carrying a concealed weapon, malicious destruction to a building and careless discharge of a firearm.
South Bar no stranger to controversy, crime
In light of the incident, Kelly Allen, attorney for South Bar, announced that the bar and restaurant will be closing.
"South Bar has decided, for various reasons, to close and sell the business," Allen said Tuesday. While no sign outside South indicated the business would be closing permanently Tuesday, a note taped to the front door said the restaurant would be closed for the afternoon.
The controversy surrounding South first began to heat up in early April, when a Redford woman shot a gun into the air outside Einstein Bros Bagels after a fight spilled out of the bar after closing time.
The following week, Downtown Birmingham/Bloomfield magazine launched a petition asking the Birmingham City Commission to challenge South's liquor license, noting the "ongoing series of incidents (at South) ... constitutes a serious diversion of public safety resources from the rest of the Birmingham community."
In addition, last August police charged two men from Detroit and Lathrup Village with felonious assault after two bouncers were stabbed in the neck and hand during a fight at the bar.
The number of police incidents at South Bar was a heated topic of discussion at the 2011 liquor license renewal hearing, held before the city commission. The commission called for special hearings for South and the Hamilton Room due to the number of disturbances there, noting it costs the city money to police these establishments.
“If our police department are going to be taxed by one or two establishments, that costs money,” Commissioner Rackeline Hoff said at the time. “It is costing money to prevent altercations.”
In response to the shooting in April, Birmingham Police began upping foot patrols and enforcement throughout downtown. In addition, in early April, valet service was shut down at midnight not only at South, but at the Hamilton Room and Chen Chow (the two other Birmingham establishments open until 2 a.m.). Police say it was an attempt to cut down on late-night crime.
Following the stabbing and shootings, South Bar owners Joseph Spadafore and Steve Puertas vowed to improve safety at the bar, noting they both live in Birmingham with their families.
"It's gut-wrenching to us," Puertas said after the April shooting. "And we feel terrible about what happened."
Neither Puertas nor Spadafore responded to interview requests Tuesday.
City manager makes next step in revoking South's liquor license
Moving forward, City Manager Bob Bruner said Tuesday the Birmingham City Commission will look at scheduling a public hearing in August, requesting the revocation of South's liquor license from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC).
Bruner launched the official investigation into South Bar's liquor license in April following the initial shooting. Bruner directed the City Attorney's Office and police to investigate the number of incidents at South, as well as other restaurants and bars across the city.
Only the MLCC has the power to issue and revoke liquor licenses, Bruner said. If a city wants an establishment's liquor license revoked, they must file a request with the MLCC. But before that, they must also conduct an investigation, schedule a public hearing and serve the licensee with written notice of the hearing.
Bruner will be asking the city commission to schedule a public hearing on Aug. 13.
In addition, Bruner will also be asking for an Aug. 13 public hearing to consider zoning ordinance amendments that would place stricter controls on businesses with liquor licenses in the future.
Bruner decided on this second hearing before Monday night's shooting, coming before the Birmingham Planning Board on July 11. The planning board will discuss the changes during a study session on July 25 while holding their own public hearing on Aug. 8.