The highest volume restaurant in Montgomery County made the case to keep its alcohol license on Thursday, months after an undercover police operation found underage drinkers and an off-duty restaurant employee too drunk to walk on her own.
Montgomery County Police and the county’s Department of Liquor Control found the violations on the night of Aug. 11 at Clyde’s Tower Oaks Lodge in Rockville.
Two officers in street clothes and a DLC inspector witnessed numerous customers who appeared underage with alcohol. One DLC inspector took photos of a patron roaming around the restaurant with a pitcher of beer and of the off-duty employee, who cops said blew a .231 on a portable breathalyzer test.
The legal limit to drive in Maryland is .07.
On Thursday, Clyde’s management talked about the improvements in ID checking technology and bar policies they’ve made since that night.
The Board of License Commissioners — which serves as the county’s liquor board — will decide any consequences for the violations in a closed session, then submit that judgement to the restaurant’s attorney. Clyde’s will have the opportunity to appeal any decision, but the well-known Washington area restaurant group faces the loss of the location’s alcohol permit and steep fines.
“We have parents call us in the spring and make prom dinner reservations for their kids,” said Clyde’s Restaurant Group CEO John Laytham. “They know that we won’t serve their kids alcohol. That’s what makes this situation really difficult for me.”
Clyde’s management admitted that a popular Monday night half-price wine special was likely behind an increasing amount of underage patrons at the restaurant’s two bar areas.
Police said they decided to conduct the operation on a Monday night at the restaurant because of reports of fights in the parking lot and other calls from people in the community.
Hans Olson, the general manager of the Tower Oaks Lodge, admitted to the commissioners that he sensed an “escalating issue” on Monday nights over the summer and that there were fights in the parking lot.
On Aug. 11, plain clothes officers from the Montgomery County Police department’s Alcohol Initiatives Section set up both inside and outside of the restaurant — which is designed like a hunting lodge and has two separate bar areas.
From 10 p.m. that night to 3 a.m. the next morning, police said they issued a long list of citations.
Police issued seven civil citations for fake IDs. All seven patrons with fake IDs were younger than 21, police said. Officers issued five civil citations for possession of alcohol under 21 and all five of those patrons were drinking inside the restaurant and had blood alcohol content levels higher than .10.
Olson told the commissioners he was in the restaurant on the night of the operation.
He noticed the off-duty employee who was apparently too drunk to walk and said he immediately sat her down and called her boyfriend to come pick her up. Laytham said it’s his understanding that the employee was celebrating her birthday.
The restaurant faces three violations — one for serving underage patrons, one for overserving an obviously intoxicated patron and one because DLC inspectors on the scene weren’t allowed to see certification documents for servers and bartenders working that night.
Since that night, Clyde’s hired a former Howard County police officer and expert on fake IDs who has worked with the Department of Homeland Security.
The restaurant has installed new UV readers to attempt to catch more fake IDs and embarked on a retraining effort of its employees. Olson said one server — who that night served multiple drinks to underage patrons — was fired.
Olson said other bartenders working that night weren’t fired because it’s too difficult to determine who served who.
Perhaps most importantly, Clyde’s management said, the restaurant has changed its half priced wine night. Now, only patrons sitting down in the dining room can take advantage of the deal and only until 9 p.m.
The restaurant has also stopped serving pitchers of beer and full bottles of wine.
In their testimony before the commissioners, Clyde’s management emphasized the restaurant chain’s long history in the D.C. area, the improving quality of fake IDs, the changes they’ve made since Aug. 12 and the high volume and sales numbers the restaurant generates.
The Clyde’s Tower Oaks location opened at 2 Preserve Parkway in 2002 and in 2013 had more than 450,000 guests, according to the company’s attorney. It generated over $750,000 in sales taxes that year and purchased about $875,000 worth of alcohol from the county’s Department of Liquor Control — the county agency that distributes alcohol to all county restaurants and alcohol retailers.
The Board of License Commissioners’ decision on penalties is expected to be delivered to Clyde’s in about a week.