New bar owner could seek license at Thirsty Turtle site in College Park
College Park officials show little opposition, despite property's history
The now-defunct Thirsty Turtle bar in College Park could soon be replaced, and city officials hope its proposed replacement won't prove as problematic as its predecessors.
John McManus, owner of The Barking Dog in Bethesda, has expressed interest in opening a second location at 7416 Baltimore Ave. in College Park, formerly home to Thirsty Turtle. McManus is scheduled to go before the Prince George's County Board of License Commissioners on Feb. 22 to request a liquor license for the property.
The county revoked Thirsty Turtle's liquor license Nov. 3, after a Sept. 23 incident where two underage patrons were allegedly admitted and served alcohol. Inspectors alleged the bar, which opened in 2007, had a long-held pattern of serving underage drinkers.
The liquor board will decide whether to grant a new license, but the College Park City Council will likely provide a formal endorsement or opposition. City Councilman Robert Catlin (Dist. 2) said the council is unlikely to oppose the license, as a bar is probably the building's only viable business option.
"I don't think we really have a choice. I think we'd be glad to listen to them," Catlin said, adding the bar would benefit from high demand among college students and little need for renovations. Before Thirsty Turtle, the property was home to Lupo's Italian Chophouse, a restaurant that opened in 2002 and closed in 2006.
Thirsty Turtle owner Alan Wanuck has 17 years remaining on his lease, and his bar was the second in 11 years to lose its liquor license at the two-story, 14,700-square foot property. Terrapin Station lost its license in 1999, due to city opposition and similar complaints that it habitually served underage patrons.
"The history isn't good," Catlin said, adding that the building's size it is larger than the city's two most popular bars, R.J. Bentley's and Cornerstone Grill and Loft, combined may have contributed to past violations. "How do you fill the place up without a whole lot of people who shouldn't be there?"
McManus said he is still in very early stages of applying for a license, and declined to estimate when he could receive it or potentially open a new bar. He said many bars have succeeded in college towns while obeying laws, and that he is confident he can do the same.
"If [students] had their way, they'd rather not travel or go far to find music or entertainment," McManus said. "They need a good place to go that's run responsibly. You don't have to operate outside of the parameters of the law to run a successful establishment."
City officials said they hope to meet with McManus at a Jan. 18 council work session. McManus had not formally agreed to attend as of press time, but said he is willing to work with city and council officials.
Campus police at the University of Maryland, College Park, lobbied heavily in favor of Thirsty Turtle losing its license last fall, but would welcome another drinking establishment as long its owners obey all laws, said UM Police spokesman Sgt. Ken Leonard.
"It doesn't make much of a difference to us, as long as they are a responsible business owner," Leonard said, adding that the city's other bars have been more careful since last fall to check IDs and not overserve customers. "As long as they operate within the law and follow those rules, we have no problem with that."