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Ellie's keeps liquor license, but with stipulations

After more than three hours of testimony and another hour of deliberation behind closed doors, the Hudson City Council decided shortly after midnight on Tuesday not to suspend the liquor license of Ellie's on Main, a downtown bar.

Four motions, in all, were made concerning the future of the establishment.

The final one, approved 5-1, was to renew its liquor license, but with stipulations.

The business will no longer be allowed to serve alcohol on -- or pipe music to -- a deck at the back of its building at 417 Second St.

It also is required to have an employee on the deck when patrons are there, and to keep the establishment's front door and windows closed.

The stipulations were mainly a response to complaints from neighbors about loud music and other noise coming from the bar and the deck.

Monday night's quasi-judicial hearing was held in response to complaints filed by neighboring residents and business owners alleging that Ellie's was maintaining a "disorderly house" in violation of state law.

The City Council was required by law to schedule the evidentiary hearing after the sworn statements were filed with City Clerk Nancy Korson.

Jerry Washburn and Jacqueline Geiger, who reside in second-floor apartments across the street from Ellie's, testified to loud music coming from the bar, and loud profanity-laced language used by patrons coming and going late at night.

Washburn and Geiger reported seeing people vomit and urinate on the sidewalk and neighboring properties after leaving the bar.

They said they frequently find vomit or urine near their doorways in the morning.

Also called to testify by the complainants' attorney, Thomas Jacobson of Lommen Abdo Law Firm, were John Mingo, owner and resident of the Ultimissimo Salon building at 112 Walnut St.; Robert Misenko, owner of Seasons on St. Croix Gallery at 310 Second St.; and Pete Foster, owner of Barker's Bar and Grill at 413 Second St. and partner in San Pedro Café at 426 Second St.

John Bender, owner of the Home, Kitchen & Bath store at 412 Second St., also filed a complaint but didn't attend Monday night's hearing. Jacobson said Bender was on a long-planned trip.

The hearing was conducted similar to a court proceeding, with Jacobson acting like the attorney for the plaintiff in a lawsuit.

Ellie's owners Sharon Horne-Ellstrom and Brian Ellstrom, and manager Greg Ellstrom, were represented by Michael Waterman of the Mudge, Porter, Lundeen and Seguin law firm.

Waterman subpoenaed Hudson Police Chief Marty Jensen and Patrol Sgt. Glen Hartman to testify.

Greg and Brian Ellstrom also were called to testify by Waterman.

Jacobson and Waterman both gave opening and closing statements, and cross-examined witnesses.

There was standing room only for late-comers to the proceeding in the City Council chambers. The audience of around 75 included interested owners of other downtown restaurants and bars, including Paul Kremer of Dick's Bar, Andy Kron of Pier 500 and Paul Rode of The Agave Kitchen.

Police testimony

Jensen said police had been called to Ellie's or its address 69 times between Jan. 1, 2008, and early this week. The police chief said 28 of the calls were in response to reported disorderly conduct and seven calls involved fights.

"It is one of our busier establishments downtown. However, it's not the busiest," he said.

Later, when Waterman asked Jensen if he thought Ellie's is a disorderly house, Jensen replied, "I don't think it is any more disorderly than any other business we have in the downtown."

Jensen said Ellie's ranked third in police calls to downtown establishments.

Both Jensen and Hartman said Greg and Brian Ellstrom have been extremely cooperative in dealing with problem behavior in and around their bar.

The Ellstroms have voluntarily installed surveillance cameras to monitor activity in the bar, on the deck and on the sidewalk in front of the bar, the police officials said.

They said the Ellstroms provided the police with access to the camera on the street, allowing officers to monitor activity from their computers.

When Waterman asked Hartman if the number of calls to Ellie's was "out of the ordinary," Hartman replied: "It is out of the ordinary in that it is not a high number. We have had a lot more problems at other establishments in the downtown -- significantly higher."

In cross-examining Hartman, Jacobson zeroed in on the fact that Hartman is the day patrol sergeant.

"So for the last two years you haven't been policing downtown at night?" Jacobson asked.

Hartman acknowledged that he hadn't.

In further questioning, Hartman said he may not have been inside of Ellie's during the past two years.

He said he knows what goes on downtown, however, through his conversations with other police sergeants and officers.

Property owners testify

Mingo also testified to late-night noise from the Ellie's deck, which he said is 25 feet from his bedroom window.

But he said his main complaint was with vulgar language coming from the establishment.

On Wednesdays, the bar offers women all the drinks they want for $5, he said. And one night he witnessed a couple engaged in simulated sex on the deck.

"That's the kind of stuff that bugs you," Mingo said.

"They have control over who is in the bar, how much they are drinking and what they are saying."

When Waterman asked Mingo during cross examination if he was aware of the First Amendment's protection of free speech Mingo countered: "What standard is this city standing by? That's my answer to you."

Misenko said he was concerned about Seasons on St. Croix having to deal with the same type of litter and damage to property it experienced when it was located near Pudge's Bar.

Then, he and his wife, Ruth, had to replace nine or 10 plate glass windows priced at around $9,000 each, Misenko said.

"Everyone wants to have a good neighbor, and that doesn't seem to be happening," he said.

Foster, whose Barker's Bar and Grill shares a wall with Ellie's, reported problems with urine, vomit and beverage cups (some with alcohol in them) left at the front of his establishment.

He also testified to fights at the bar. He said a manager at Ellie's told him following one fight that, "It looks like a pig just got slaughtered in our bathroom."

Jacobson submitted as evidence more than 20 photographs of litter taken by Foster and Barker's employees.

In response to Jacobson's questioning, Foster said he believes Ellie's promotes "binge drinking to a younger crowd" with its price specials and annual "beer pong" games.

Manager testifies

Greg Ellstrom described Ellie's clientele as typically in the lower 20s, and sometimes the mid-30s. He said the establishment draws its biggest crowds from about 11:30 p.m. to closing time.

Some of the problems with people urinating outside the bar happen after closing time when patrons are waiting for taxi rides home, Greg Ellstrom said.

He said that by law he can't let people back into the bar to use the restroom.

Ellstrom said he has his staff, including five bouncers in addition to himself, clean up the sidewalk in front of Ellie's and nearby businesses each night.

Waterman emphasized that Ellie's has never been cited for allowing underage drinking or staying open after hours. He noted that the police officials testified that the bar isn't suspected of allowing drug trafficking, prostitution, gang activity or a "riotous" house, either.

Those are the types of things that need to be present for a bar to be declared a "disorderly house," Waterman said.

Council action

The hearing began at 7:30 p.m. and testimony ended at roughly 10:45 p.m.

The council then went into closed session with City Attorney Catherine Munkittrick to discuss its options and litigation that result from its decision.

The council returned to open session shortly after midnight.

Alderperson Scot O'Malley offered the first motion, seconded by Council President Lori Bernard, to declare Ellie's a disorderly house and suspend its liquor license for 10 days.

The motion was defeated with opposing votes from alderpersons Lee Wyland, Alan Burchill, Randy Morrissette II and Mary Yacoub.

Morrissette then moved to rule that Ellie's isn't a disorderly house. That motion failed, too, for lack of a second.

A second motion by Morrissette, to rule that Ellie's isn't a disorderly house based on a Wisconsin Supreme Court definition of the term, and to renew its liquor license with stipulations, passed 4-2.

O'Malley and Bernard again voted together, this time in opposition.

Finally, the council on a 5-1 vote approved the motion renewing the liquor license and listing the stipulations.

Bernard said she voted against it because she didn't think it sent a strong enough message to Ellie's about the alleged problems occurring at the establishment.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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