A Portsmouth bar that opened nearly two years ago has closed after a series of violent incidents led the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority to revoke its licenses last month.
Notorious Lounge, located in the Manor Village shopping center near Portsmouth Boulevard, opened in October 2021 with VABC licenses to serve wine and beer for dine-in and take-out and to serve mixed drinks. The VABC opened an investigation at the scene after a shooting in the parking lot on June 18.
The VABC found that Notorious “failed to take reasonable steps to prevent an act of violence” from occurring on his property, neighboring properties, or any nearby public property. Additionally, Notorious failed to sell the amount of food to alcohol — 45% — required to comply with the terms of its mixed drink restaurant license, and failed to submit a complete and accurate annual review report for the year ending April, according to VABC.
At around 1:30 a.m. on June 18, a man was walking to his car after leaving Notorious when he was shot in the torso, sustaining serious injuries that were not considered life-threatening. Asked why this shooting was believed to be Notorious’s fault, a Portsmouth Police spokesman said “it appears” that all those involved in the shooting were customers of Notorious, “as it was the only establishment of this property open at the time”.
A Portsmouth Police spokesman said there have been 13 incidents at the scene since it opened in October 2021. Previously only nine police reports had been made to the address since 1998 when their cases began, none of which were for violence. The 13 incidents included eight involving firearms that were fired, displayed or stolen, and six people were shot at the scene, police said.
Mike Joynes, an attorney who represented Notorious in the case, said the owners tried to take steps to improve security after the incidents but blamed the violence on the surroundings.
“I think efforts have been made everywhere by everyone involved,” Joynes said in an interview Friday. “I think people have to understand, you have to choose your location very carefully and then you also have to be careful because a lot of times things get attributed to the establishment just because it may be the only place open.”
Last month in Virginia Beach, the VABC revoked the license for West Beach Tavern on Cleveland Street following a May 7 shooting outside the bar. The landlady was later jailed for five days on a misdemeanor charge, accusing her of illegally selling alcohol and running a disorderly business. She has a court hearing scheduled for August.
In Norfolk, several shootings in the city center in 2022 led to a crackdown on nightclubs, as the city revoked operating licenses from five establishments. The Legacy Restaurant and Lounge on East Plume Street was the latest to close, closing at the end of June after operating for several months without alcohol sales following a quadruple shooting outside the bar in August.
The VABC’s summary suspension order listed incidents prior to Notorious, including shots fired at the restaurant during an April 17 event; a physical altercation between patrons and security that resulted in one person being shot by security on April 29; and on April 30 and May 1, multiple reports of customers being assaulted by security during incidents in which pepper spray was used. On June 11, someone was charged with aggravated assault after a victim was found unconscious on the ground in the parking lot outside Notorious, according to VABC.
The company has completely ceased operations since the return of its licenses on July 3, owners confirmed by email and a phone number listed online for Notorious is no longer in use.
By relinquishing their licenses, the owners waived their options to negotiate further or proceed to a formal hearing and admitted the violations found by the VABC.
Joynes declined to comment on whether the restaurant was at fault in the June 18 shooting, saying handing over their licenses means “we’re not taking any position.”
“(The owners) are upset, I mean they put in a lot of time and a lot of energy and a lot of money and it’s like it’s out of their control – it’s other people’s actions – and you’re trying to do everything right and other people are sabotaging you either because of the location and the amount of crime around you,” he said. “That’s why people have to be very careful when deciding where to place settlements at this stage.”
Joynes added that the law, specifically Virginia Code Section 4.1-225 outlining the grounds on which the VABC can suspend or revoke licenses, “has some drastic aspects.”
“This law based on public safety has a lot of problems,” adding that businesses like gas stations and supermarkets that have shootings on their properties aren’t held accountable to the same degree as restaurants. “The way the law is administered, I think, is done disproportionately.”
Gavin Stone, 757-712-4806, firstname.lastname@example.org