Sophie Bolich

City Closes Walker’s Lounge

After 16-item police report, Common Council votes for non-renewal of southside nightclub.

By - Feb 7th, 2023 01:57 pm
626 S. 5th St. Photo by Dave Reid.

626 S. 5th St. Photo by Dave Reid.

UPDATE Feb. 10: As pledged, the owner of Walker’s Lounge is appealing the city’s decision in court.

The City of Milwaukee is shutting down Walker’s Lounge and Events, a bar, restaurant and event space in the Walker’s Point neighborhood.

The Common Council unanimously voted on Feb. 7 against renewal for the business’s liquor license based on a 16-item police report and testimony from neighbors. The license expired the same day.

During a Jan. 24 renewal hearing, Licenses Committee members expressed concern over violence, noise and litter, as well as an emerging pattern of firearm thefts from vehicles parked outside the establishment, 626 S. 5th St.

In the early hours of the morning on Jan. 1, 2023, Walker’s Lounge was the site of a non-fatal shooting. According to a police report, two people were shot inside of the nightclub following an altercation between patrons.

“When people are shot in your location, that’s serious,” said Ald. José G. Pérez, who presides over the district where Walker’s Lounge is located.

Pérez also noted that he warned owner Felipe Martinez Jr. at a previous renewal that he would no longer support the establishment if there was any further gun violence. “And I’m not supportive,” he said.

Within the past year, the nightclub has seen an increase in firearms being stolen from patrons’ cars. The police report presented at the hearing included 10 such incidents within the past year.

“Those were the only ones that were reported,” Ald Pérez said. “We know there’s many, many more break ins. And these firearms are taken from vehicles — stolen from them — and now they’re on the street.”

Pam Ferderbar, who lives a few blocks away from Walker’s Lounge, said that she and her husband, Tom Bamberger make a habit of carrying a garbage bag on their Saturday and Sunday morning walks to pick up pieces of glass from cars that have been broken into.

“The broken glass is a stark epidemic that’s happened all of the sudden,” Bamberger said, adding that he’s seen a noticeable uptick in break-ins over the past year.

On Jan. 3, Milwaukee Police drafted and submitted a Notice of Nuisance Premises for the address.

Attorney Josh Gimbel accompanied Martinez at the January renewal hearing, where he noted a number of changes made to the establishment in response to past incidents.

Following the Jan. 1 shooting, Martinez fired the bar’s former security company for failing to properly pat down patrons. He then hired independent security guards as replacements. The bar also implemented a new dress code prohibiting beanies, masks, oversized jackets and large bags, and reached out to nearby establishments to coordinate in staggering closing times in order to ease crowds at bar close.

These changes didn’t satisfy Pérez, who moved for nonrenewal.

The bar filed written objections ahead of Tuesday’s meeting of the full Common Council. Gimbel, who was present at the meeting on behalf of Martinez, presented his verbal objection and indicated that he plans to further pursue the matter in court.

“Mr. Martinez has never had his license suspended before. Mr. Martinez does not deserve to lose his license based on the testimony at the hearing,” Gimbel said. “Unfortunately, if the nonrenewal recommendation is sustained based on the record before the committee, the decision would be challenged in court and would likely result in a court decision in the licensee’s favor. I encourage you to be consistent and approve with a warning letter or some sort of progressive discipline such as a short suspension.”

Walker’s Lounge, which opened in September 2019, operated as a nightclub and banquet hall, as well as a full-service restaurant, offering Latin American-inspired small plates, brunch and appetizers. The bar also offered hookah.

Martinez owns the property, including the two-story building, built in 1900, that houses Walker’s Lounge. The property is currently assessed for $737,300. City assessment records a limited liability company affiliated with Martinez paid $1.25 million for the property in June 2022.

Martinez can apply to reopen Walker’s Lounge and Events in one year. A court could also grant an injunction to allow the business to continue to operate during a lawsuit. He did not respond to a request for comment by the time of this article’s publication.

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