A Brookhaven nightclub with a history of legal battles with the city is now fighting its decision to not renew its alcohol license.
Medusa Restaurant & Lounge, located at 3375 Buford Highway in Northeast Plaza, is asking a DeKalb County Superior Court judge to overturn the city’s 2020 alcohol license decision. The move is the latest development in the city’s years-long crackdown on nightlife, especially along Buford Highway, where police say the bars and nightclubs create high crime rates.
Medusa is a popular nightlife spot for hip hop artists and athletes. Losing its alcohol license would essentially put it out of business. During the appeals process, the venue can legally sell alcohol.
The city informed Medusa in November it was not going to renew the alcohol license due to a “pattern of misconduct.” The pattern, according to the city, included not paying alcohol excise taxes on time and not cooperating with police investigations of violent incidents that occurred in the parking lot outside the club in 2018 and 2019.
The city also informed XS Restaurant & Lounge, another Northeast Plaza business, that its alcohol license was not renewed. The owners have not appealed the decision, according to a city spokesperson. A call to the club’s listed phone number was answered by an automated recording saying nobody was available.
Medusa appealed in December to the city’s alcohol hearing officer, William Linkous, who upheld the decision. Linkous is a former Gwinnett County judge and was appointed to the post by the mayor and City Council.
Cary Wiggins, an attorney for Medusa, alleges in court documents that Linkous made the wrong decision and asked a judge to reverse the hearing officer’s ruling.
Wiggins said the city based its decision to not renew by “’piling on’ dated and unrelated ‘violations’ of the code.” Wiggins also alleges the city violated the constitutional rights of Medusa employees to not hand over surveillance video police requested while investigating the separate 2018 and 2019 incidents, one involving a shooting and the other a fight.
“The city’s actions have imposed an unconstitutional condition on Medusa insofar as the restaurant is being punished for asserting its Fourth Amendment rights,” according to the documents.
The grounds to not renew the alcohol license are “vague” and allow the city to “deny an alcohol license renewal based on subjective criteria, which effectively vests the city with unbridled discretion to deny a license,” the documents say.
Brookhaven and Medusa have a history going back to 2017, when the city tried to revoke the business’s alcohol license after a shooting in the parking lot. In arguments before the city’s now-defunct alcohol board, the city also alleged Medusa served as a meeting place for a renowned member of the Bloods street gang.
The alcohol board overturned the city’s decision, saying there was no credible evidence any Medusa employees acted illegally.
The City Council approved a rewrite of the alcohol code in 2017 that created a new category of nightlife called “entertainment venue.” A club with a dance floor, stage or DJ booth was considered an entertainment venue and subject to a new $100,000 fee to obtain an alcohol license. The new code also prohibited entertainment venues from selling booze on Sundays and rolled back alcohol hours from 3 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Medusa and two other Northeast Plaza businesses sued the city over the fee and hours, alleging discrimination against black-owned clubs. A judge agreed the alcohol code could be interpreted as discriminatory, so the City Council voted to eliminate the fee and the lawsuit was eventually dropped.
In 2018, the city audited all the businesses where alcohol is sold on premises and found 13 to have unpaid back taxes, including Medusa. The city briefly suspended Medusa’s alcohol license before reaching a settlement agreement.