Unruly patrons strike Homestead Lounge

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 20:00
Officials: Bowling-alley bar not necessarily to blame

The Homestead Lounge is an unassuming bar attached to a family-friendly bowling alley.

Yet in the last few months, the Homestead has been the scene of several police calls involving rowdy and sometimes-combative patrons, culminating in a Sept. 11 confrontation between a boisterous crowd and Anchorage police officers conducting a standard bar check around 10 p.m.

According to police accounts from that night, here’s how that incident went down: First, officers saw a woman who appeared intoxicated sitting at the bar. As an officer approached her, a male patron slapped one of the officer’s arms to block contact. A crowd of at least a dozen people surged to surround the officers. One officer tackled a man sitting with the woman after he became aggressive. Several other people crowded in, acting hostile, the officers said. They ended up pepper-spraying some patrons and arresting three, all Mat-Su residents.

Other incidents included a July parking-lot brawl that involved an estimated 20 people and drew police units up from Anchorage and several assault reports around the bar, located on Regency Drive. In the most recent one on Sept. 7, a 22-year-old Eagle River man told police somebody pushed him down and kicked him as he left the bar around 2 a.m.

The bar’s owner, Lynn Lythgoe Jr., did not respond to calls for comment.

Despite the recent spate of unruliness, APD and state alcohol regulators both say they aren’t planning any kind of broader enforcement action at the Homestead.

A bar is only responsible for the actions of its customers if employees are overserving them or if the bar is somehow instigating the rowdy behavior, said Joe Hamilton, an investigator with the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. That agency regulates liquor licensing and conducts bar checks.

“Unless the bar was involved in instigating the (Sept. 11) incident or it was found the person that grabbed the officer’s arm was just sloshed and overserved to that point, how can you really hold the bar responsible for the actions of the patrons?” Hamilton asked.

Owner Lythgoe also owns numerous other businesses, including real-estate development companies and the Whaler Bar & Grill in Anchorage.

The Homestead has just one violation in the last few years in its ABC Board file, though Hamilton said that doesn’t reflect a citation to an overserved patron on Sept. 25.

The prior violation occurred in 2009 and involved an underage customer let into the bar during a comedy show.

The recent citation occurred on Sept. 25 around 1 a.m. as Hamilton was conducting an “overservice detail” with APD, he said.

It’s illegal to let a drunken person remain inside a licensed establishment.

Hamilton was looking for patrons “obviously in a drunken state” and said he found one: a 22-year-old man with a Fort Richardson address sitting at a table with his back to the bar. He called police. The man was cited and released. His breath alcohol level was estimated at more than twice the legal limit.

Why not cite the bartender or the server? Well, Hamilton said, while they should have been more careful to keep an eye on the visibly drunk guy, he didn’t see employees doing anything wrong — giving the guy another drink or walking over, noticing his condition and letting him stay.

“What we’re concerned about is the overservice of alcohol. You’re not going to prevent fights and things like that. In bars, that just happens,” he said.

But if a bar is continuously overserving patrons, and that’s causing fights, the state can cite employees, Hamilton said. But he needs to catch them doing it.

He doesn’t plan to revisit the Homestead — outside of normal overservice checks — unless he starts getting complaints from patrons, other licensees or the police.

“They have administrative rights,” Hamilton said, of bars in general. “We can’t just go in and say, ‘You guys are overserving.’”

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