Walker’s Lounge Can Remain Open Pending Lawsuit Outcome
Council had voted to close bar, but owner appealing decision.
The Common Council’s push to shutter a Walker’s Point nightclub will need to wait.
On Tuesday, the council voted unanimously to deny renewal of a liquor license for Walker’s Lounge, 626 S. 5th St., based on a 16-item police report and testimony from neighbors. The move effectively closed the business. But tavern owner Felipe Martinez Jr. sued, and secured a temporary injunction Friday that will allow the bar to continue operating over the weekend, and possibly much longer.
“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,” said attorney Josh Gimbel in protest of the council’s move. He promised the business would pursue the matter in court, and it is. A lawsuit appealing the council’s decision was submitted Thursday and Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge William Sosnay granted a temporary injunction Friday.
A hearing on a longer injunction is scheduled for Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. Until then, the bar must close by 1 a.m. each night.
Walker’s Lounge, which opened in September 2019, operates 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 offers hookah.
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.
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 the nightclub following an altercation between patrons.
“When people are shot in your location, that’s serious,” said Common Council President José G. Pérez, who represents the district where Walker’s Lounge is located. Pérez also noted that he warned Martinez at a previous renewal that he would no longer support the establishment if there was any further gun violence. “And I’m not supportive.”
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,” 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.
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. But those changes didn’t satisfy Perez. He moved for nonrenewal at the Jan. 24 hearing and supported the measure on the council floor.
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