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Sonar nightclub renews liquor license, reopens

Baltimore nightclub Sonar is open for business again, complete with its liquor license in time for two sold-out shows this week.

The new license allowed the club to start selling alcohol Monday. Michael Stewart, one of the minority owners of the nightclub, was named the new licensee.

Sonar founder Lonnie Fisher had been named on the license, which had expired May 1. When the club’s management was informed of the expiration, the club was abruptly shut down.

Fisher told The Daily Record May 5 that he no longer owned shares of the nightclub.

Sonar had been closed for nearly a week before reopening May 7 and hosting “dry” shows without its liquor license. Those shows still drew well, but the liquor sales would have been a good boost for the club, said General Manager Jesse Griffin. English punk rock band Crass played May 7, drawing 350 fans.

“Obviously with Crass, that’s 350 older punk rockers, that would have been a decent bar rate,” Griffin said.

Griffin said he hasn’t calculated how much in liquor and ticket sales the club lost.

But when the Deftones played at Sonar Monday and Tuesday for back-to-back shows, Monday night’s sell out brought in about $14,000 in liquor sales alone, Griffin said.

Meanwhile, a few acts that had been scheduled to perform at Sonar during the time it was closed had rebooked elsewhere. Hip hop artist Talib Kweli, who was to perform May 4, played at Bourbon Street Ballroom & The Quarter Baltimore. Psychostick and TheNEWDEAL also rescheduled their shows at Bourbon Street.

“They straight up picked up,” Griffin said. “Those would have been bigger shows, but we’ve tried not to think about [lost revenue].”

But the ninth annual Maryland Deathfest will go on as scheduled May 26 to May 29, and the first show is already sold out.

Sonar’s owners used the time that it was closed to bring the venue up to code with health and fire inspections, as well as to re-examine its business model.

“We’ve had to tighten up our game in the meantime,” Griffin said. “It even gave some of us a week to get things fixed.”

Club managers made the original closure announcement via Sonar’s Facebook page, saying that Fisher did not renew the club’s liquor license by an April 30 deadline.

But the managers and Fisher disputed why it closed. Manager Daniel McIntosh has said in published accounts it was Fisher’s responsibility as an owner to renew the license. Fisher countered by saying that he isn’t an owner.

Fisher, now special projects manager of the Baltimore Grand Prix, said he was the majority owner when the club opened in 2001. But he said he sold a majority share of the business to McIntosh in 2007 and then sold him his remaining share in 2009.

“Working through an attorney, we found a process whereby to complete the transfer,” Fisher said Wednesday. “Everyone got what they wanted. It’s all been done and we are no longer involved with each other. I wish them well.”

Fisher signed the license renewal for the past two years, but after being interrogated by the IRS this year for his affiliation with the club, Fisher had said he decided he would not sign the lease again.

The club is located at 407 E. Saratoga St. It has three rooms that can be run together or separately for events. The three rooms together hold more than 1,400 people.