Critical Information for Victims of Over-service at Kung Fu Saloon
Because our firm has filed Dram Shop lawsuits against more bars than anyone else in Texas, we're more aware than almost anyone of just how serious a threat to public safety the negligent over-service of alcohol poses. But while the public seems to be broadly aware of the scourge of drunk driving, the contributions of alcohol providers to these horrific accidents seems not to get the scrutiny it deserves. In an attempt to remedy this situation, I sometimes take time out of my busy schedule to examine the public records of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and report my findings. If you would like to talk about a potential Dram Shop case, I encourage you to call me at (855) 326-0000.
The original Kung Fu Saloon was founded in 2009 in Austin. Based on a concept that is growing in popularity called the barcade, Kung Fu made it a point to include between 12 and 20 working video arcade games on the bar's premises. Today the chain has locations in Austin, Houston, Dallas, and Fort Worth, as well as an experimental interstate location in Nashville, Tennessee. The group has an estimated revenue of $48.5 million per year.
Texans may recognize this bar's name from some controversy it's generated in recent years. The bar chain came under heavy scrutiny for what potential guests insisted were racist door-management policies. Given the furor this generated, it was probably easy to overlook that the Kung Fu Saloon was repeatedly investigated by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) over the years for a variety of complaints related to their service of intoxicants. For instance, it was noted by Austin Police that, from January to September 2014 Kung Fu topped the list of area bars where DWI suspects had their final drinks before hitting the road, suggesting the agency probably had its hands full.
From 2016 to the present, Texan Kung Fu Saloon locations were investigated half a dozen times for potential violations of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code.
Important note: A complaint against/investigation of Kung Fu Saloon doesn't guarantee its guilt or imply any patterns of TABC violations. Conversely, if investigators don't find evidence that a location violated the law, that doesn't mean the alleged violation did not take place. It's often tough to find proof that malfeasance took place in these situations. We're not here to accuse Kung Fu of anything specific; we're just reporting incidents put on the TABC's radar for one reason or another by concerned citizens and law enforcement agencies.
Kung Fu Saloon Locations that Have Been Investigated by the TABC Since 2016
Austin - 11501 Rock Rose Avenue Suite 140
5/11/2016: A concerned citizen reached out to the TABC to complain that this Kung Fu Saloon location sold alcohol to an intoxicated person.
Looking quickly at the area where the Saloon is situated, it looks like there's a lot of bars. Austin is pretty proud of its gastropubs and inventive cocktail dispensaries, so it's not surprising that Kung Fu might end up continuing to serve someone who had spent the day wandering to and fro in the vicinity soaking up the Texas sun and getting fall-down drunk at various hip drinking establishments.
However, the proximity of other bars is in no way an excuse for staff to over-serve a patron. If anything, servers at bars surrounded by other bars should be even more vigilant in watching out for customers coming in already drunk. The TABC likely agrees with that sentiment, and in the course of their investigation managed to prove that a Kung Fu employee did continue serving an intoxicated person. According to the case document the agency took "Restrained" disposition against the bar. That means that Kung Fu was able to successfully use a Safe Harbor defense, and the TABC withheld the punishment it otherwise would have dished out. The investigation was closed under those circumstances on 7/06/2016.
4/17/2017: The Austin location was once again reported by a citizen for serving alcohol to an intoxicated person.
This time, however, investigators were unable to locate sufficient evidence to warrant any further action against the establishment. The complaint was therefore closed without disposition two months later, on 6/15/2017.
Austin - 716 W 6Th Street
12/08/2017: Toward the end of the year a citizen complained to the TABC that this Kung Fu location allegedly hosted an intoxicated employee (which the complaint form calls a "Licensee/Permittee"), as well as being the location of a breach of the peace.
Breaches of the peace at bars take a lot of forms, but if they're deemed serious enough they must be reported to the TABC within a certain short timeframe. Such instances involve major destruction of property or personal injury, and/or incidents where emergency personnel (police, fire, EMS) have to show up for one reason or another.
The agency investigated the civilian's complaints, but appear not to have found enough evidence to confirm either allegation. Without concrete evidence that the bar employee was intoxicated, it's the civilian's word against the bar's, and if the breach of the peace didn't meet the TABC's severity requirements it didn't have to be reported. The complaint was closed without disposition on 1/31/2018.
Dallas - 2911 Routh Street
3/30/2017: According to the TABC complaint form, a concerned citizen informed the agency that this Kung Fu Saloon location allegedly served alcohol to someone under the age of 21 and also served or sold alcohol to an intoxicated person.
It's not impossible that the two complaints were actually related to the same person. Maybe the bar's employees didn't appropriately check the patron's identification before pouring drinks, or they might have fallen for a fake ID. I've seen a few 17-year-olds that looked like bearded Vikings, and I certainly wouldn't have known without carding them that they couldn't even have a beer before pillaging the coast. That's why the practice is so important; a visual once-over doesn't tell a bar employee whether a patron is actually old enough to drink.
It's also important to keep an eye on how much a customer has ordered. I know that on a busy night most bars are crowded and hectic, but there's no excuse for trying to ignore the legal mandate not to over-serve a drunk patron. That includes checking their order history at the point of sale and watching for signs of intoxication. I'm sure it's a drag to be responsible for that, but it's the law.
TABC investigators apparently found enough evidence of over-service to take action against Kung Fu. The complaint ticket shows that once again the agency dealt Restrained disposition to the bar. It's possible the employee faced individual punishment (that's not included on the complaint form), but the bar itself was safe from punishment thanks to proving it made good-faith efforts to train its employees not to commit these negligent acts.
Houston - 5317 Washington Avenue
12/13/2016: The TABC incident reports that a bar employee ("Licensee/Permittee") contacted the agency to report an alleged violation. According to the employee, Kung Fu sold alcohol to an intoxicated person.
Agents looked into the allegation for roughly a month. Rather than confirm the initial allegations made by the employee, though, investigators turned up evidence that Kung Fu actually had served alcohol to a minor. Whether they additionally over-served someone as the initial complaint suggested was not explored further, and the violation on the ticket relates specifically to serving a minor.
The TABC once again restrained its disposition against Kung Fu, presumably on the grounds that the Houston location, like its Austin and Dallas brethren, was able to demonstrate that it had trained its employees in proper service standards. This Safe Harbor defense allows many bars to avoid serious fines or suspension of their liquor licenses (unless they persist in the bad behaviors).
6/13/2017: A law enforcement agency contacted the TABC to inform them of a breach of the peace that occurred at this Kung Fu location.
Despite Houston's impressive (depressive?) record for acts of drinking-related violence, investigators did not find evidence that a sufficient breach of the peace occurred to have required a report.
Given that the tip actually came from law enforcement in the first place, this seems a little puzzling. If police had to go to the venue, that generally is enough to require a report to the TABC. However, the agency closed the complaint without further action on 7/27/2017, suggesting that investigators found the breach did not need to be reported. Maybe the police were called for an instance that didn't really require their involvement, but thanks to the vague language of the ticket that's unclear.
Texas Law Allows Victims of Over-service to Sue Negligent Bars
If you're interested in learning more about the ins-and-outs of Texas Dram Shop law, we encourage you to take a look at our comprehensive page on the subject.