Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council Closes Mr. J’s Lounge

Two homicides in two years results in license nonrenewal for bar near 46th and Capitol.

By - Mar 1st, 2022 05:03 pm
Mr. J's Lounge at 4600-4636 W. Fond du Lac Ave. in 2021. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Mr. J’s Lounge at 4600-4636 W. Fond du Lac Ave. in 2021. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A long-time Milwaukee bar near the intersection of W. Fond du Lac Ave. and W. Capitol Dr. is closing, at least temporarily, following a vote of the Common Council.

The full council voted Tuesday morning to deny the liquor license renewal for Mr. J’s Lounge, 4610 W. Fond du Lac Ave. The move effectively closes the business at midnight Tuesday, when its license expires. The decision can be appealed in court.

The business has seen two patrons murdered on or adjacent to its property in recent years.

The first incident occurred in December 2020 when photographer Robb Smith was shot in the back of the head after leaving the bar.

The second incident occurred in August 2021 when a patron left the bar and punched an individual standing in a group outside. Partially captured by the bar’s security camera system, at least one member of the group started shooting only for the patron to pull out a handgun and return fire. The patron that threw the punch later died.

Owner Jeffrey L. Jones and his attorney Michael Maistelman attributed the problem to a citywide surge in gun violence during a license renewal hearing on Feb 22. Nearby residents who showed up to testify said the business itself is the problem.

“We have an epidemic of gun violence in the city,” said Maistelman on Feb. 16. “We’re up against a major tidal wave of violence.”

He said the problems did not occur inside the bar, but outside it. “Unfortunately we can’t prevent people from going into their cars and that’s been a problem throughout the city,” said the attorney.

Maistelman said a new security firm was doing a better job. He noted that a June incident involved a security guard being shot while patrolling a nearby street. A July incident involved a potential burglar entering the tavern with a rifle before being tackled by security.

“In each incidence my client interacted with the police he was cooperative with them,” said the attorney.

He said his client was asking for a “small suspension” instead of losing its license, which he said was in line with the council’s practice of progressive disciple. The bar submitted a petition, which Maistelman said had 536 signatures.

But area Alderman Khalif Rainey sided with residents who were asking for the bar to be closed. “Based on neighborhood testimony I would be in support of nonrenewal,” said the alderman in his limited remarks to the committee.

He did not speak, other than to vote, Tuesday when the council voted 13-0-1 to deny the license renewal. Ald. Jose G. Perez abstained without explanation and had previously voted against the bar at the Licenses Committee meeting.

The business, according to a Facebook post, is running an “all liquor must go” closing special on Tuesday until its license expires at midnight.

Jones can appeal the decision in Milwaukee County Circuit Court and the Facebook post’s reference to “further procedures to remain open” indicates such a move might be forthcoming. Jones’ attorney is involved in multiple other cases that seek to overturn council decisions.

Mr. J’s first opened in 1976 as a jazz and R&B lounge under the ownership of Arlis Jones. Jones passed away in 2017. Jeffrey Jones, 61, has owned it since.

Neighborhood Concerns

“We keep saying that there is a lot of violence going on in the city, but I’m concerned about the violence going on at 4610 W. Fond du Lac Ave. which is trickling to my back door and front door,” said nearby resident Theresa Scott.

“You can’t stop the gun violence, but that location is the meeting location for all the young thugs,” said area resident Prince Harris.

Harris said the bar was not following its plan of operation to only allow patrons that are at least 30 years old.

Multiple residents said Jones had previously pledged to close the bar. “We live in fear,” said Lori Banks. “We don’t trust this bar anymore that you will do what you say you will do.”

“I am in favor of this bar closing. They don’t work with us. They don’t care about us. They’re full of crap. That’s my testimony,” said Timothy Scott, Theresa’s husband.

In January 2021 the business was briefly closed after it was found that it was operating with an expired license. A $3,234 fine was levied according to a police report.

Attorney Andrew Arena appeared at the hearing on behalf of the property owner, Charnjit Kaur. He said the owner supported reducing the size of the bar to eliminate its dance floor. “That’s probably the source of the problems,” said the attorney.

Kaur acquired the multi-tenant property, 4600-4636 W. Fond du Lac Ave. in 2021. The current one-story building was constructed in 2008. The bar was previously located at 533 E. Center St.

Phelon Thadison, a patron of the establishment, testified in support of keeping the bar open, blaming the issue on people, not the business. Another patron said the business was providing jobs and other benefits to the area.

“We are not here to destroy businesses. We have been incredibly tolerant,” said Ald. Mark Borkowski. “None of us are going to sit back and let this go to seed.”

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