If You're Considering A Dram Shop Claim Against Sherlock's, We Have Some Important Information for You
Because my firm has litigated more dram shop cases than anyone else in Texas, I feel I probably have a fuller understanding of just how widespread negligent over-service is in our state's bars and restaurants. To help the general public improve their own comprehension of how serious this problem is, I occasionally take a look through the TABC's public records and share what I find about complaints and investigations against bars and restaurants. If you believe you may have a potential dram shop case, I encourage you to give our office a call at (855) 326-0000.
The original Sherlock's Pub opened in Houston in 1977, themed after the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes' apartment at 221B Baker Street. Around 20 years later, the rights to the concept were purchased by investors Edgar Carlson and Larry Martin. The partners expanded beyond the single pub and created a number of similar offshoots around Texas. Several Baker Street Pub & Grills remain open throughout the state, but only one Sherlock's modeled on the original concept remains in Addison.
According to its records, the TABC conducted 33 investigations of various Sherlock's locations since the start of 2011. Some were initiated due to civilian complaints and some by reports from law enforcement, but across Texas the agency's investigators had to look into quite a number of possible infractions. Let's take a look at what the TABC was called in to check, as well as the outcomes of their investigations.
Important note: A TABC complaint and investigation is not an indicator of guilt or innocence. It only means the agency was called to look into a complaint or allegation. If they investigate a location and find that there no punitive action required, it could mean either that the allegations were false or that there was simply insufficient evidence to prove a violation occurred. Conversely, an investigation closed without further action doesn't necessarily mean the bar did nothing wrong--only that nothing was found to confirm the original complaint. Most importantly, as with all crimes and civil infractions, no one is guilty unless proven so.
TABC Investigations of Sherlock's Since 2011
Sherlock's Baker St Public House & Grill
Addison - 5100 Belt Line Road Suite 776
2/03/2016: A "Licensee/Permittee," meaning an employee or owner of the bar, called the TABC to report service of alcohol to an intoxicated person. Not many of these "whistleblower"-style reports are received, but it's important to note that not every person in a bar's employ is comfortable with the idea of enabling a bunch of dangerous drunks. It can be difficult to do the right thing when it might put one's job in the crosshairs, but that makes it all the more admirable.
However civic-minded the report might have been, the TABC investigated and didn't find sufficient evidence to issue sanctions. The ticket was therefore closed without any further action being taken.
9/18/2015: The TABC received an anonymous complaint (attributed only to "Other") about the Addison location serving alcohol to an intoxicated person. The TABC conducted a Source Investigation, meaning their goal was to track down the source of the beverages consumed by someone who got a DWI or even hurt someone else while driving. They apparently didn't find enough evidence to confirm over-service took place, and the complaint was closed without further action after about a month.
8/05/2014: An anonymous complaint was filed by the agency about this location serving alcohol to an intoxicated party. The agency conducted a Source Investigation that did not result in any further disposition against Sherlock's.
7/23/2014: Police reported over-service and the bar's failure to report a breach of the peace to the TABC. The agency's investigators conducted a Breach Investigation but were unable to locate sufficient evidence of either event to take further action. The complaint was closed after roughly two months.
It's still a little surprising to see no disposition taken at the end of a "failure to report" investigation. When supplied that information by police, I would think that means they had to address the breach when it occurred and maybe even make some arrests. With information on the police report confirming a breach, it seems as though the bar's failure to report it should be an automatic citation. However, it's only mandatory that a bar call it in if certain criteria are met, so maybe this incident was found not to qualify for technical reasons.
4/04/2014: A citizen's complaint this time did not focus on just over-service. Rather, the claim is threefold: Sale or distribution of alcohol to a minor, possession or permitting possession of drugs on premises, and over-serving an intoxicated individual.
That's a pretty hefty combination of allegations, although the vagueness of the report leaves us with only guesses about how everything actually took place that evening. In any event, it looks as though the TABC wasn't able to find enough evidence of any of these charges to issue sanctions on the bar, as the complaint was closed about a month after it was opened with no disposition.
7/23/2012: Almost a year passed between this registered TABC complaint and the previous one for this location. Maybe it got its act together for a while after a hectic 2011 (or maybe it just learned to fly under the radar better) but when law enforcement agents were called to this location again it was for the same song and dance: The TABC was notified of alleged service to an intoxicated person.
Agents investigated and closed the case without further action roughly one month later.
8/05/2011: It seems like police barely get to take a breath before they're called back to the Addison location. I suppose that makes sense, as Sherlock's has a reputation for being pretty rowdy sometimes, especially as the night wears on. 2011 seems to have been a rough year for this location.
Law enforcement passed information to the TABC that an intoxicated person was sold more drinks by the bar. Agents went to investigate but don't seem to have found enough evidence to confirm the allegations. They closed the complaint without further action after two weeks.
7/12/2011: A citizen filed a complaint of alleged over-service at this location (is anyone sensing a motif?). Investigators looked into the allegations but apparently didn't find sufficient evidence to sanction the bar, closing the complaint after only two weeks or so.
Short investigations like this give me a little pause; the turnaround on an open complaint is usually around a month. It's probably a combination of factors that got this matter looked into and closed so promptly, but it's a little strange that their quick response still yielded no results.
3/10/2011: Law enforcement seems to be called to this location frequently and often for similar reasons. There were three complaints involved this time: serving an intoxicated person, breach of the peace, and a failure to report the breach as mandated by TABC regulations.
Most "failure to report" complaints we see, especially from law enforcement, seem to gain better traction in terms of investigation results. The punishment is often just warnings and fines, but at least sufficient evidence is present thanks to the efforts of the police officers often called to stop whatever these breaches of the peace might look like.
This time, though, TABC investigators closed the ticket roughly one month later without further action taken. Even if the alleged over-service couldn't be proven, I'm a little surprised that the failure to report a breach of the peace wasn't addressed. I'm not privy to the inner workings of the agency, though, so I'll have to assume there was a good reason.
1/19/2011: Law enforcement called this location out for allegedly serving an intoxicated person. TABC agents dutifully investigated the claim but seem to have found insufficient evidence of the over-service. The complaint was closed roughly one month after the initial complaint with no further action taken.
The Addison location remains open and popular, which is frankly kind of astounding considering how often the cops have to roll out there to break up fights and stop drunk drivers. Nevertheless, it remains a hotspot for North Dallas bar-goers and I don't see that changing any time soon. I do hope the TABC manages to rein in its (alleged) wild behaviors more successfully in the future.
Sherlock's Baker St Pub & Grill
Arlington - 254 Lincoln Square Shopping Center
3/24/2016: A law enforcement agency reported to the TABC that Sherlock's in Arlington had sold or distributed alcohol to an intoxicated person. The TABC investigated the incident for almost two months, but in the end the agency closed the file without taking any further dispositive action.
11/25/2014: A law enforcement agency passed information to the TABC that this location served alcohol to an intoxicated party. The agency investigated for roughly a month and a half, but ultimately closed the file without taking further administrative action.
At this point, you may have noticed that a lot of these investigations seem to end up being closed without further action taken. This is largely because it can be hard to gather reliable evidence that a bar actually over-served someone. In many cases, the only sources of information are questionable eyewitness accounts or purchase receipts that may not reflect what a patron actually drank--for example, it might show several whiskey shots, but not whether he purchased them all for his personal consumption or bought a round for friends. Because the agency is massively understaffed, evidence also sometimes gets cleaned up and forgotten by the time a TABC rep gets a chance to investigate, so these probes don't always turn out the way they would in a perfect world.
11/29/2012: TABC agents investigated a two-part report from a citizen about Sherlock's serving alcohol to an intoxicated person and a subsequent breach of the peace. It's not guaranteed the two are related (the publicly issued summaries aren't very detailed) but it's certainly the case that over-intoxication often makes people fightin' mad.
We have no way of knowing how these two complaints may have tied together at the time, but regardless of the relationship or lack thereof, the investigation went on for almost two months before the TABC closed the file without further disposition.
5/17/2012: The agency investigated a pair of citizen complaints filed as one: Serving alcohol to an intoxicated party, and "Intoxicated Licensee/Permittee," or a drunk employee. Unfortunately these two infractions can go hand-in-hand, since a drunk employee often has compromised judgment and therefore might over-serve other people without properly questioning his or her own behavior.
Regardless, the TABC investigated the allegations for about a month and a half before closing the file without taking further administrative action.
The TABC's file on this Sherlock's location also indicate that its license to operate was voluntarily suspended near the end of 2017. It's not exactly clear why it closed, but news sources speculated about low sales and problems with parking.
Sherlock's Baker St Pub & Grill
Austin - 9012 Research Boulevard Suites c0-3
06/18/2014: The TABC was notified by a law enforcement agency that this Sherlock's location served alcohol to an intoxicated party. They dutifully investigated the complaint but were unable to find sufficient evidence of the infraction to issue sanctions. The file was closed without further action taken.
4/26/2012: A law enforcement agency notified the TABC that this location served alcohol to an intoxicated person. The agency conducted a Source Investigation but was unable to find sufficient evidence to merit taking action against Sherlock's.
Sherlock's Baker St Public House & Grill
Dallas - 9100 N Central Expressway Suite 141
This location, now closed permanently, pretty much stayed out of trouble, at least as far as TABC complaint records show. It had a short list of alleged violations including a single Breach of the Peace report in 2008, but most of its registered complaints were about marketing and promotions. Given its fairly unremarkable history, we'll just overlook this location and move on.
Sherlock's Baker St. Pub - Clear Lake
Houston - 2416 Bay Area Boulevard 'E'
1/31/2012: As required by law, a licensee of this location (meaning an owner or employee) called the TABC to report a breach of the peace. That could mean various kinds of disruption to the general atmosphere of the business, but in bars it's usually some kind of noisy fight.
Because the bar followed the rules and reported the breach, no dispositive action was taken by the TABC. The ticket was closed about two months later when the investigation finished.
12/19/2011: A licensee called the TABC to report a breach of the peace a month or so prior to the one mentioned above.
The TABC took no administrative action related to the report.
I've seen much worse TABC reports about other Sherlock's locations, to say nothing of other bars in general. It looks like that winter might have been a good opportunity for some security staff coaching, though.
Sherlock's Baker St Pub
Houston - 10001 Westheimer Road Suite 2840
7/11/2017: A citizen filed a complaint against this location for continuing to serve an intoxicated person alcohol.
According to the investigation report, TABC agents were able to confirm the citizen's complaint about over-service. Their disposition report notes that they took only "restrained administrative action." That means the employee may have been arrested for misconduct, but the business' permits and its operation were not affected by the incident. This happens when an establishment can successfully show that it has fulfilled "Safe Harbor" requirements set forth by the TABC. We put together a helpful guide about Safe Harbor, which I encourage you to read if you're interested in how a bar can escape further trouble with the TABC in situations like this.
11/05/2014: TABC agents were called to Sherlock's for reports of serving an overintoxicated person. A unique twist in this case is that the information came from a "Licensee/Permittee," which means someone working at the bar reported it.
It may seem like Sherlock's would shoot itself in the foot by reporting these incidents, but TABC regulations actually require an establishment to report incidents that involve a breach of the peace. If someone gets too polluted and then gets violent, the bar has between one and five days to report the incident depending on what happened.
Whatever the actual circumstances, the TABC's "Breach Investigation" didn't result in any measures taken against Sherlock's at that time.
The Westheimer location recently closed its doors for good without warning or fanfare, citing problematic operational costs and the crippling effect of Hurricane Harvey on continued business.
Sherlock's Baker St Pub & Grill
Houston - 1952A West Gray Street
This location kept its nose pretty clean. Because it only had a couple of potential citations, I'll include both even though one was prior to 2011.
3/01/2011: Agents were again sent to this location for a citizen's complaint that the bar sold or served alcohol to an intoxicated person. This one came with the unpleasant addition of an alleged breach of the peace--in the form of aggravated assault.
These reports don't specify what happened, just generally indicate the types of incident involved. It's pretty likely these two allegations are related; drunken bar fights happen far too often. Regardless, the TABC doesn't seem to have found sufficient evidence about either incident, and they closed the file without any action taken.
6/25/2008: A citizen's report led the TABC back to this location for two complaints: Selling or serving alcohol to an intoxicated person, and unsanitary conditions on site. The ticket doesn't specify what was gross enough to have the citizen make an official complaint, but investigators don't seem to have found enough to pursue either claim. The ticket was closed without further action.
This Sherlock's location shut down in September of 2017 to make way for a residential high-rise.
Sherlock's Baker St Pub
San Antonio - 16620 Hwy 281N Suite 1
8/03/2012: Law enforcement officials sent word of a breach of the peace at this location. As I noted before, breaches of the peace that involve police intervention must be reported by the establishment where they took place. The official complaint against Sherlock's in this instance was that they didn't report the breach event, which earned the bar a written warning and a blot on their record at the time.
4/18/2011: A law enforcement agency reported Sherlock's to the TABC for allegedly serving alcohol to an intoxicated person. The TABC then opened what is called a "source investigation," in which they try to track down the establishment that over-served the intoxicated person and prove that they did so. Source investigations are usually opened when the intoxicated individual breaks the law after leaving the bar. That ranges from being caught for DWI up to causing grievous bodily harm.
It appears the TABC investigators pursued this case for around four months, but were unable to obtain sufficient evidence to move forward with any further action. The case was closed in late August without disciplinary measures taken.
1/27/2011: A law enforcement agency passed information to the TABC about infractions at this location. There are three noted allegations on the ticket: "Breach - Aggravated," "Breach, Failure to Report," and a charge of selling alcohol to an intoxicated person. With all those on the same report I feel like we can guess at the story, but I don't want to speculate.
The TABC closed the ticket two months later without taking any further action.
That's the lot of them. These aren't all of Sherlock's run-ins with the TABC; there were another 20 or so complaints on the books stretching back to 2007 in the agency's electronic database.
I want to be clear that none of my commentary about these events is meant to disparage the efforts of the TABC. Like I said a few times throughout the account, it's probably hard to prove over-service allegations against bars. In many cases investigators are unlikely to find any concrete evidence of wrongdoing on the bar's part. It must be especially difficult not to find enough support for a law enforcement officer's original claim in those instances.
Texas Law Allows Those Harmed by Over-service to Sue Bad Bars
If you're interested in learning more about Texas Dram Shop/liquor liability law, we encourage you to take a look at our comprehensive guide to the subject.