Council Closes Gene’s Supper Club
Multiple shootings in past year drive police, neighbors and alderman to seek bar's closure.
Farewell Gene’s Supper Club.
The Common Council denied a liquor license renewal for the tavern, 4323 N. 60th St., effectively shuttering the business, after hearing testimony from bar owner James Robinson, Jr., Milwaukee Police Department representatives, neighbors and the area alderman’s office. Gun violence was a common theme.
All of the incidents occurred during the past year, the vast majority after the pandemic took hold in Milwaukee and the city restricted bar capacity.
“President Johnson is at the point where his residents can no longer endure what is going on,” said Johnson’s assistant Arlisia McHenry during the hearing. “We have people who are every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night hearing gunfire.”
A 90-page packet prepared for the renewal hearing is filled with neighbor complaints and police reports on the shootings. In one incident a pregnant woman in a party bus outside the bar was shot. Numerous other victims are identified, some of which were engaged in shootouts.
Police district captain Jeffrey A. Sunn said the department objected to the license renewal because of the violence created by the establishment. “The violent crime that has been going on is just unacceptable at this point,” said Sunn.
On November 4th, the police department labeled the business a nuisance property, making it liable for future policing costs. The department confirmed three separate shooting incidents in which a victim was found and a connection to the bar was established. The department ultimately accepted an abatement plan from Robinson, which Sunn acknowledged the bar owner had worked to implement.
More than twice as many showed up at the license hearing to testify under oath about the bar.
“It’s just a nuisance,” said 21-year-neighborhood-resident Delores Gregory after ticking off a list of problems with shootings, litter and noise. “The type of crowd that goes in there is just a headache.” She said the clientele at the bar changed.
Gregory’s husband, Cleo Gregory, said he picks up liquor bottles outside their house regularly. He said urination behind their garage has become a problem. The couple lives a block from the bar. “It’s really annoying,” said Gregory.
“We have never had problems like that until James took over the supper club,” said Thelma Powers, a three-decade neighborhood resident. “We’re tired of ducking from gunshots.”
An employee of the bar testified in support of the business and said things got worse in the past year.
Robinson told the committee he employed up to eight security guards at a time, and later added a security vehicle. But multiple police reports read into the record state that guards failed to respond to incidents outside the bar.
During the renewal hearing, Robinson’s attorney Patrick C. Brennan attempted to establish, by questioning his client, that the incidents happened outside of the business and often after it was closed. He also argued that the reconstruction of N. 60th St. negatively impacted Robinson’s business.
Brennan said Robinson maintains a payroll of up to 25 employees who might not find employment elsewhere because of the pandemic. He placed the blame on outside actors and a citywide increase in gun violence.
“Does 60th and Capitol benefit more from a boarded-up building with 25 less employees or does it benefit from an on-going business that is doing what it can to ameliorate the problems that the neighbors have with that establishment?” asked Brennan. A company owned entirely by Robinson owns the building as well as the business.
The attorney said a suspension was the more prudent punishment.
The committee unanimously recommended the license not be renewed. The full council, after a second speech by Brennan, unanimously adopted that recommendation.
Robinson can appeal the non-renewal in circuit court. The license expired March 2nd.
Robinson was one of the first people to endorse Johnson when he first ran for the Common Council in 2016. Johnson hosted multiple fundraisers at the bar.
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