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The Phoenix in danger of losing liquor license

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A decades-old gay bar is in danger of losing its liquor license after a patron was caught, quite literally, with his pants down.

On April 12, undercover detectives visiting the Phoenix found a man sitting on a bar stool, his pants around his ankles, on the receiving end of a blowjob, according to an Atlanta police report.

That incident is one of three that the Atlanta Police Department cites in its effort to revoke the Ponce de Leon bar's liquor license.

Last month, the APD sent a letter to Phoenix owner Evelyn Downing asking her to attend a Nov. 15 License Review Board meeting and explain why her bar's liquor license should not be taken away.

For years, neighbors of the Phoenix have complained that the bar -- and its parking lot, in particular -- has earned a reputation as a breeding ground for prostitution and drug deals.

But Bob Brewer, who worked for years as a bartender at the Phoenix, says the bar suffers from its proximity to one of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

"They're putting blame in the wrong place," Brewer says. "If they want to get rid of the problem [with drugs], then they should concentrate on the [housing] developments in between North Avenue and Ponce."

A representative from the police department's License and Permits Unit says that any bar, restaurant or nightclub written up for violating curfew or found to have prostitution or drug sales on their premises automatically receives a letter to appear before the License Review Board.

In addition to the blowjob incident, police cited the Phoenix's management on March 27 for operating a half-hour after the city's mandated 3 a.m. closing time. And on April 21, a bar patron was arrested in the parking lot after allegedly offering sex for money to an undercover officer.

The License Review Board, which is appointed by the mayor and made up of police officers, attorneys and citizens, will consider public comment and a report from the police before recommending to the mayor whether to revoke the Phoenix's license.

If the Phoenix does lose the right to pour, it will be the latest in a string of gay bars to fall under the city's axe.

Metro Video Bar, on Peachtree Street, closed in October. And Backstreet, which for years had been the city's all-night party destination, closed last year. The License Review Board revoked both bars' liquor licenses following allegations of drug sales on the premises.

Phoenix manager Arlene Riley says that the bar has done its best to clean up its act in recent years, including installing a fence and extra lighting in the parking lot, as well as hiring a private security guard on weekends.

"If I know they're doing [prostitution], they go right out the door," Riley says.

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