Duke’s on Water, Scooter’s Pub Suspended
Two bars will be closed Nov. 26 through Dec. 15 due to issues in police report.
Two downtown bars will soon go dark for nearly three weeks.
The Milwaukee Common Council voted unanimously on November 2 to suspend the license for Duke’s on Water and the attached Scooter’s Pub as part of the taverns’ annual liquor license renewal.
The conjoined taverns, 154-158 E. Juneau Ave., are located at the center of the Water Street bar district that has seen dramatic highs and lows in the past year.
“Obviously this past year has been a different and difficult year for this area of Water and Juneau streets, both with COVID issues with the various marches and protests and more importantly when the Bucks went to the world championship there were more than 100,000 people congregating in that area,” said the taverns’ attorney Joseph Abruzzo to the Licenses Committee on October 19.
At one point, the owners fired their entire security team.
The security issue came to a head early on the morning of January 30 when, as detailed in a police report, bar security staff member Antonio Dundy attempted to escort two patrons from the bar. Dundy had already been told his employment would be terminated in the coming days.
The first patron left when requested, but the second resulted in Dundy physically escorting the individual out. Dundy, with two hands, pushed the patron which resulted in them falling into a snowbank. When the patron stood up, he was “struck in the face with a closed fist by Dundy,” causing the person to fall, and then Dundy began taunting the patron. The patron fled the scene, only to be chased by the manager “in an attacking manner.”
Jeremy Charusch was hired as a security manager in February.
Charusch and Abruzzo said the bar has made a number of changes to improve its operations. That includes installing a $12,000 camera system, clearing out patrons earlier, turning off music earlier, adding metal detectors, searching bags, instituting a weekend cover charge and, with police guidance, instituting a dress code.
“If the police report had ended there I would say okay, they had issues, they addressed them,” said area Ald. Nik Kovac. “These last two incidents are what I can’t get my head around.”
The bars have twice been recorded by the police for having people in them after state law requires bars to be closed. The first time, July 30, resulted in a warning letter, and Charusch said a security member was fired.
The second time, September 2, the Milwaukee Police Department, in breaking up a fight outside, found “15-20 people” still inside the bar at 1:57 a.m. MPD “observed individuals still inside drinking with zero intention of being out of the tavern at 2 a.m.,” says its report.
“In that second incident we were dealing with yet another employee who no longer works for us,” said the security manager.
“I get how in some ways you are now the victim of that behavior,” said Kovac. But the taverns have a license to allow patrons to drink on the sidewalk and Kovac noted that incidents outside bars in Milwaukee are recorded as part of their license renewal police reports.
A resident of one of the apartments located in the two floors above the bar took issue with Charusch’s testimony that a plan is in place to address the issues.
“What Jeremy said, he’s been lying through his teeth, the stereo is on until the last minute they’re open,” said Daniel Grinder. “You are lying about turning the music down at 1:35, it plays until the minute you close.”
Andrea Shafton, who co-owns the bar with her husband and whose family has owned the building at 1207 N. Water St. since 1976, said changes would be made.
“Hearing the testimony of the neighbor only reinforces my concern,” said Kovac. “I think the neighbors have a right to be concerned about the lengthy police report and the sequence of events.”
“The main reason I would make my motion is the many items in the police report, specifically the ones that were a failure of management,” said the alderman. The committee unanimously approved his motion.
Abruzzo unsuccessfully argued before the full council on November 2 to get the pending suspension overturned.
He used the same argument as earlier, that the pandemic, protest marches, Milwaukee Bucks crowds and increased Water Street violence had caused problems.
But the protests occurred before the current license period. Additionally, there were no police-reported incidents during the Bucks’ championship series.
There were three violent incidents recorded during June 2021, the same month that Water Street was beset by a string of violent incidents that were largely the result of unruly gatherings taking place across the street from the bars.
“Every single police report says the bar was cooperative, the bar took proactive steps,” said the attorney.
Kovac and MPD, in its report, did acknowledge that Carusch and the bars were the victims in at least one of those three incidents and that the entire area, not just the two bars, was beset by increased violence happening well outside of their doors.
Thanksgiving will be the last day you can get your hands on $1 taps and $2 rails until December 16. Duke’s and Scooter’s must close starting at 12:01 a.m. on the morning of Black Friday.
Baade and Shafton also formerly owned Rascals on Murray, 2311 N. Murray Ave., but shuttered that bar in 2017. After relocating to Port Washington in 2016, the couple opened a new Rascals approximately 25 miles north of the original.
Shafton herself has been directly involved in operating bars and restaurants on the first floor of the Water Street property since 1990, starting with Ken Elliot’s Casual Fine Dining and later Mel’s on Water before the 2006 remodeling into its current dual tavern configuration.
For more about the bars’ history, see our 2015 Bar Exam column.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this article said Dundy punched the second patron. As requested, the article has been changed to say “struck in the face with a closed fist,” which is verbatim from the police report.
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