Defiant Ribadeneira vows to fight Latin Palace suspension he calls racist

Community leaders say other Hispanic clubs negotiated amicable agreements to have live entertainment

liquor Latin palace  sign

Sign posted at the Latin Palace after the Baltimore Liquor Board suspended their license for two months.

Photo by: Fern Shen

Upon suspending the Latin Palace’s license for two months for multiple violations, Liquor Board Chairman Thomas Ward told licensee Jose “Enrique” Ribadeneira last week that he would have to work better with the community before he could get it back.

Judging by the sign Ribadeneira has posted outside his shuttered club, at 509-13 South Broadway, that prospect does not seem too likely for the moment.

“We’re going to continue to operate soon as we’ve done for the past 18 years. JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL – RACISM SHOULD NOT,” it reads in part.

A message on the club’s Facebook page continues the defiant theme, saying, “The people in charge of our community no longer wanted the Latin Palace to have music or dancing (crazy right?) But we did not listen.”

A sign outside the shuttered Latin Palace restaurant and bar. (Photo by Fern Shen)

A sign outside the shuttered Latin Palace restaurant and bar. (Photo by Fern Shen)

“They’re portraying me as a horrible person,” Ribadeneira complained to The Brew over the weekend, discussing an online petition and other efforts he is making to garner support for an appeal of the suspension.

His allegations of bias angered critics of the Fells Point club, including Fells Prospect Association president Victor Corbin, who is Hispanic.

“Since when does enforcing the rule of law revert to racism. This is an unfounded accusation. The law is color blind,” Corbin wrote in a letter sent to the Liquor Board on Saturday calling on them to challenge attorneys and applicants for the basis of such allegations.

Violations and Questions 

On Thursday, Ward and his fellow commissioners tried to keep the hearing focused on the specifics of the alleged violations. Looking at the file, the board’s executive secretary, Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth, confirmed that a restriction forbidding live entertainment was placed on the club’s license in 1998.

An inspector testified that live entertainment and dancing occurred at the club last November 3, and that a boxing match was held there on February 20th, following a warning by a liquor inspector days earlier that Ribadeneira’s license did not permit it.

The licensee was also charged on December 7 with keeping an exit door locked during operating hours and refusing to produce identification when asked to do so by a police officer.

Ward had neighbor Mondell Powell confront Jose Ribadeneira directly Thursday about problems he says the club causes (Photo by Fern Shen)

Ward had neighbor Mondell Powell confront Jose Ribadeneira directly Thursday about problems he says the club causes. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Seemingly distraught and at times rambling, Ribadeneira did not directly contradict any of the facts presented.

His remarks and those of his critics only touched on the backstory behind several questions that lingered afterwards:

Violation aside, how is it that a club basically known for Latin music and salsa dancing has a live entertainment restriction? And why has live entertainment continued at the establishment since the restriction was imposed?

No Problems With Other Establishments

Joanne Masopust, president of the Fells Point Community Organization, said she learned that the prohibition dates back to a time when community leaders were concerned with other liquor establishments in the area, including a club called “723.”

Upon hearing that the Latin Palace has a capacity of over 600 people, she said, the community “feared that they would have similar problems” and pushed for restrictions.

Masopust said she didn’t know about the restrictions – and that Latin Palace had been having live entertainment for years in spite of them – until last August when Ribadeneira formally applied to the Liquor Board to have them lifted.

Joanne Masopust, David Martz and Victor Corbin, at the Liquor Board in April on another matter. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Joanne Masopust, David Martz and Victor Corbin at the Liquor Board in April on another matter. (Photo by Fern Shen)

The community associations, she said, tried to pursue with him the same process they successfully used with other establishments in the area – negotiate terms and agree on a mutually acceptable Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to allow live entertainment to take place.

Sunlight Lounge, Santa Clara and Carolina’s Tex-Mex are among the Latino-owned establishments in the area that have done so, noted Corbin. “People should know that, when we have Enrique talking about racism,” Corbin said.

At several meetings, Corbin and Masopust said, Ribadeneira would not give them a clear answer to questions about what kind of entertainment he wanted to have, on what days and at what hours.

“How can you create an MOU when someone won’t answer those basic questions,” Corbin said. He said they told Ribadeneira’s attorney, John A. Pica Jr., to tell his client to stop having live entertainment until all parties reached an understanding. But this never happened. The commissioners were told on Thursday that other live entertainment violations against the club are pending.

Sign atop the Latin Palace, on South Broadway in Fells Point.

Sign atop the Latin Palace on South Broadway in Fells Point.

“At first, a number of people were very supportive of him, then people started feeling like they could not trust him,” Masopust said, adding that one underlying fear is that he will turn to party promoters to bring in more business.

Promoters who bring in large numbers of rowdy patrons from outside the neighborhood have caused problems for Fells Point in the past, she said.

Officials Frequented Club

Ribadeneira, for his part, gave a number of explanations for his troubles, among them the new leadership at the Liquor Board.

“Now you have this new board and whatever-her-name-is [Masopust] going after small business,” Ribadeneira said.

He reiterated his charge that city officials gave him the impression that live entertainment was permitted there because they have inspected and (for personal reasons) frequented his club.

“We’ve been operating 18, 17 years and never had issues,” he said. “You had the Liquor Board Commissioner [Stephan Fogleman] who used to come in here and dance.”

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, he said, had her 40th birthday party there. (We have asked both Fogleman and the mayor’s press office for comment.) The mayor’s communications chief, Kevin Harris, said Rawlings-Blake actually had her 30th birthday party there.

No reply so far from Fogleman, but a remark he made on Twitter suggests he thinks Ribadeneira was not referring to him: “A lot of explaining to do tonight when my wife discovered that I dance.” Ribadeneira declined today to elaborate on his earlier comment saying “who danced or didn’t dance at my club is not the point.”

A petition outside the Latin palace seeking support. (Photo by Fern Shen)

A petition outside the Latin palace seeking support. (Photo by Fern Shen)

An arrangement whereby people could attend events at the club as private “members” also gave him the belief he could continue to hold events there. He also repeated allegations that cultural stereotypes are behind the effort to regulate him more closely. “They have a wrong concept of Latinos,” he said.

Ribadeneira said he is trying to increase business at the club because people depend on him (“30 people are without jobs, they have no jobs now because of this!”) and that he wants to pass the operation on to his daughter.

He has planned a meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) at 6 p.m. at the club with other Hispanic organizations in hopes of galvanizing support as he appeals the suspension.

“I am going to fight this,” he said.

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  • ushanellore

    Mel Kodenski here you come–
    with Ribadeneira in your tow
    is it ever OK to give a firm, “No”,
    to anyone from El Salvador,
    from Ecuador or Mexico?

    Is it ever OK to fall out–
    with anyone from Venezuela
    Argentina or Guatemala,
    Castro’s private haven Cuba?

    Is it ever OK to argue
    with anyone from sweet Peru,
    or from Chile from the Atacama,
    or from anywhere–
    where the beast of burden is the Llama
    or the fine and woolly fleece Alpaca?

    Is it ever OK to deny
    anything to anyone from
    where the language is romantic–
    Spanish– fluid and fantastic?

    NO-NEVER OK to pick that quarrel,
    they’ll send you rolling in a barrel,
    you’ll be tarred and feathered a rabid racist
    against all things redolent of Spanish,

    In case your cause seems anti Hispanic
    you better plot how you will vanish…

    Usha Nellore

  • Tom Gregory

    I’ve got to come down on the side of the Latin Palace in this dog fight.

    Mr. Ribadeneria seems to be a bit of a maverick and, yes, maybe the boxing match was a tad over the line, but I like his spirit. He’s simply trying to operate his business in the same manner in which he has done so for the past 18 years without interference from the city. It’s only now he’s getting blow back?

    Look up the LB assignment sheets from that time period and see which inspectors were filing reports for that area and…oh…wait…that’s right…according to the state audit LB inspectors never really did their jobs.

    Add to the mix two high ranking local Democrat party politicians and the Liquor Board chairman getting their boogie on in his club, then he’s correct to assume he’s operating within the law. Surely this is a case where tacit approval took place.

    I’m of the opinion that Mr. Ribadeneria should be grandfathered in for an entertainment license and not be bothered with all the paperwork the city and the various neighborhood associations are creating. I plan swing by and sign the petition. I’ll even bring my very own Big Boyz Bail Bonds pen.

    • James Hunt

      It’s pretty funny that Ribadeneria accused another Hispanic person of being “racist.” Can’t make this stuff up.

      • ushanellore

        Other than belonging to the human race Hispanics are not one nationality and really not one race. White Hispanics consider themselves an entirely superior race compared to Black or brown Hispanics. The Indians descended from the Mayas, Incas etc consider themselves unique. Enrique scoffed that Corbin does not even speak the language. In Enrique’s eyes Corbin is pseudo Hispanic.

        • James Hunt

          Huh. Sounds like a south of the border version of Twain’s “Pudd’nhead Wilson.”'nhead_Wilson.

          I blame President Bush. Because racism.

          • Tom Gregory

            If Governor O’Malley becomes El Presidente I have no doubt he’ll mandate that all Anglo-Americans be required to learn Spanish in order to accommodate the New Americans entering the US.


          • EinBalt

            What about Franco-Americans?

          • Tom Gregory

            Sources tell me O’Malley’s plan as President would be a forced illegal migration of all Franco-Americans living in the US to Quebec, Canada. There they will be known as Neuf Français Canadiens. If Omalley’s plan succeeds, Louisiana will lose nearly 40% of its current population.

      • Tom Gregory

        Although it’s fashionable to pull the race card when things don’t go one’s way, Mr. Ribadeneria needs to tone down that nonsense to remain credible. I can understand Ribadeneria’s frustration, but Victor Corbin is a stand up guy and works very hard on behalf of the residents of Fells Point.

        The right course for the Latin Palace is to go ahead and sign the MOU then just simply ignore when it suits him to do so. He has very good council in Mr. Pica. Let the residents complain and take Latin Palace to court. Although contrary to state law, Baltimore courts have recently determined homeowners do not have legal standing when dealing with neighboring businesses.

        Should be interesting to see if the sound bite media turns the scuffle into a David v. Goliath drama like they have for some of the Anglo bar owners when going up against neighborhood associations.

  • ushanellore

    Wrong concept of Latinos? May be, but the right concept of Ribadeneira. The Liquor Board never ceases to amaze. It has a genetic disposition for drama. The is not only Latino versus Anglo and vice versa it is also Latino versus Latino. This is internecine warfare– Enrique versus Corbin.

  • Tastes Better than the Truth

    I still can’t get past the boxing night thing — he was told to cancel the event by the liquor board inspector and held it anyway. That is inexcusable.

    It sounds like Mr. Ribadeneira is going to have to swallow his pride and do things properly (get his live entertainment permit and enter into a M.O.U. with the community.) He’ll be a better person for doing so.

    Maybe next the Liquor Board can go after the establishments that dot our poorest neighborhoods that are supposed to be taverns that can sell carry-out “over the bar” but instead operate behind bullet proof glass as 6 am to 2 am liquor stores.

  • Angelo Solera

    Maybe the community Mr. Corbin represents does not support Mr. Rebadeneira and the Latin Palace. The Baltimore Latino community supports Mr. Ribadeneira and the Latin Palace. You may not care about how we feel or that what we say is important, but I would remind you that as you know, there are over 100 businesses and 20.000.00 Hispanic/Latinos living in the Fells Point, Eastern Ave and Higlandtown area . Many of us have for the past 18 yrs and will continue to support Mr. Ribadeneira.

    • ushanellore

      It takes all sorts of Hispanics to make the world. Ribadeneira is one sort. Corbin is another. Keep supporting the former over the latter. I am sure you are in the winning camp. Breaking the law is a sport among Baltimore’s political elite. Ribadeneira is in good company.

  • Angelo Solera

    It takes more then just having a Hispanic last name to be a Hispanic/Latino.
    If my last name was Chinese, would this make me Chinese. I am sorry, but Mr. Corbin is as much a Hispanic/Latino as I am a Chinese.

    • Tastes Better than the Truth

      Hmmm — so Barrack Obama is the child of a Kenyan man and a white American woman & was born and grew up in Hawaii. Is he African American? Kenyan? White? Hawaiian? American? All of these? Do you decide this, or does President Obama?

      Not sure if ad hominem attacks really move things forward. Maybe you could could show your support for Mr. Ribadeneira by helping him find common ground with the neighborhood community association.

    • mark adams

      I thought you were from Europe, Angelo.

      All Mr. Ribadeniera had to do was give some assurances to the neighbors that he would keep the peace. The Latin Palace was once called the Polish Castle. Poles danced at that location in the manner of their homeland in those days. Historically, the neighborhood has not been hostile to people of different nationalities. It is very unfair to cry racism.

  • Angelo Solera

    This is not about weather or not Mr. Ribadeneira is following the law or not, this is about organizations like the Neighborhood Community Association, the Fells Point Community Organization and others, wanting to gentrify the Fells Point and Broadway area. If you don’t think so, ask your self, How many Latinos do you think can afford to pay rent on the new apartments been build the in Fells Point area. Also, ask your self another question, Why there are no Latino own bars, restaurants or business in Fells Point, south of Broadway and Fleet.

    • ushanellore

      If it is about gentrification Mr.Ribadeneira can join the process by being a gentleman. Instead he has chosen bully tactics. He wants to have his cake and eat it too. He has certainly made enough money, by flouting the law, to gentrify.

    • ushanellore

      And how many Blacks or poor whites or poor Asians can afford that rent? Not one from the downtrodden groups. But Mr.Ribadaneira is not riff raff. He rubs shoulders with the high and mighty, as per his own words. They come to his place to be entertained. He is a case of “cry race when all else fails”. If he has patrons of all stripes, races and political class, this is a case of no racism, no?

    • ushanellore

      By the way you are right “this is not about weather or not” but it is about “whether or not”. If it were about “weather” or not this episode would be called a storm in a teacup.

    • James Hunt

      No, it’s exactly about following the law. The law still matters, and if people like Ribadeneira think claiming “racism” gets them an exemption, they’re mistaken.

      As for what Latinos do and don’t have, cry me a (Patapsco) river. Every immigrant who’s come through struggled, and many 19th and early 20th century Africans, Irish, Poles, Czechs and others had it a lot worse than those here now.

      Frederick Douglass left Fells Point in 1838–at a point in his life when he was ready and able to kill the next white man who struck him–as a runaway slave. He returned in 1891 a fairly prosperous man and built five houses (still standing) for poor blacks.

      No doubt many Latinos will rise up from difficult circumstances (though not as difficult as his) to prosper in the decades ahead. Tell you right now: when they do, they’re going to care a LOT about the law.

    • Aaron Mirenzi

      how many businesses below fleet have illegal boxing matches even after being warned against it?

      you should really be cautious about too quickly making it a race thing, especially when there is evidence to the contrary.

  • exspworker

    It is exactly about following the law. Too many bar owners in the city and county have tried to use bully tactics or political connections to operate as they want.
    Keep up the good work Judge Ward and the Baltimore City Liquor Board!

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