Food News

Over Under Went Under for Operating Without a Liquor License

Liquor license issues got Over Under shut down in September, and they're still unresolved.
Liquor license issues got Over Under shut down in September, and they're still unresolved. Photo by Margo Rita
When it opened in downtown Miami in July 2020, Over Under had been more than three years in the making. But it was worth the wait.

The Infatuation Miami said in its review that it's "hard to think of a reason not to come here," while Eater named it one of the 11 Best New Restaurants in America 2021, noting that "the drinks are strong, the music (and the karaoke) is loud, [and] the food is top-notch." This month, Time Out Miami ranked Over Under as the third Best Bar in Miami, crediting the establishment with "keeping things current with cleverly named concoctions like the Sorry Donald (rye whiskey, mezcal, tamarind) and refreshing sippers, such as the frozen Paloma with your choice of a floater."

There was only one problem.

According to a September 18 incident report from the Miami Police Department (MPD), Over Under "was shut down" 14 months after opening when an agent with the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages & Tobacco (ABT) "revealed the business had no liquor license."

A search on the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR) website shows that Over Under has a "Permanent Food Service" license — but not the 4COP liquor license required for the establishment to serve its famed Sorry Donalds, frozen palomas, muscle relaxers, and every other beer, wine, shot, and cocktail on its menu.

"It's a criminal offense, and also an administrative offense," Samuel Rubert, a local attorney specializing in alcoholic beverage law, tells New Times.

In mid-September, Over Under closed its doors with a cryptic post on Instagram: "we won't fully reopen for a little while...we have zoning issues tied to bar sales...luckily everything is fixable and temporary."

More than three months later, the issue remains unresolved.

During its 14 months of operation, Over Under quickly became a hip communal watering hole with an old-Florida slant (wood paneling, flamingo drink stirrers, crispy gator nuggets). Annabelle Torres, who worked nearby, would often stop by during her lunch break or for happy hour after work. Sometimes she'd even make the 15-mile trek from her home in Kendall if she was craving a burger over the weekend.

"I thought it was the next up-and-coming bar in Miami — never that they were just chilling without a liquor license," Torres tells New Times. "It was a really cool spot and I'm really bummed it's closed. It was definitely giving good vibes, which everybody misses."

Owner Brian Griffiths, who operates Over Under under Bad Juju LLC, confirmed to New Times that ABT confiscated the restaurant's alcohol and issued him a notice to appear in court. An arraignment hearing has been scheduled for January 24, 2022, according to the Miami-Dade County Clerk of Courts.

"We believe those actions were improper as the business was operating with a liquor license, and we are now working to have these issues dismissed. We've worked with attorneys throughout this process to ensure that we have operated legally in the past, present, and future," Griffiths tells New Times in an emailed statement.

Griffiths insists he never operated Over Under without a liquor license.

He says he obtained one five years ago when he ran the now-shuttered Shelley's Oyster and Cocktail Bar in South Miami. "We bought a 4COP-Quota liquor license almost five years ago to use at the bar and have held it since," Griffiths asserts.

A search on the DBPR website revealed no liquor licenses in Brian Griffiths' name, nor any associated with Shelley's — though Shelley's permanent food service license includes a note that ownership changed in 2017. (Located a few doors down from Over Under and also in the historic Alfred Dupont Building, Lost Boy Dry Goods, by contrast, has a permanent food service licenses and a retail beverage license.)

Patrick Fargason, DBPR's deputy communications director, tells New Times via email that "following a diligent search by the Department, there are no liquor licenses associated with Brian Griffiths...or Bad Juju LLC."

Fargason did find an "inactive" 4COP beverage license belonging to a man named Christopher Devlin, whose LinkedIn profile indicates he's Over Under's "operations specialist." But that license wasn't awarded until the DBPR's annual beverage quota license drawing on March 9, 2021. The date of licensure is May 5, 2021 — nearly 10 months after Over Under opened and began pouring drinks.

Griffith says the issue stems from the certificate of use obtained from the City of Miami when Over Under opened in July of 2020.

"The pandemic hit, and our only path to opening at the time was to get approved as a restaurant. After opening, [City of Miami Department of Code Compliance] informed us that in order to operate as a bar, we would need to file for a full change of use," Griffiths asserts. "We have been in that process for all of 2021 and are on our seventh review cycle over the last seven months, just to correct one line of our change-of-use, with no construction or work being done."

But to open without the proper certificate or license would be a violation of Florida Statute 562, which makes it is unlawful to sell alcohol with an "improper license, or without license or registration, or held [storing alcohol] with intent to sell...[and that a person] who keeps and maintains a place where alcoholic beverages are sold unlawfully."

That's a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in prison and/or fines not to exceed $500.

John Heffernan, City of Miami assistant communications director, tells New Times there are no violations with the city's zoning or code compliance departments that would warrant Over Under being shut down. There is just one violation for exterior lighting.

"But to be clear, the lighting violation is not one that would lead to a business being shut down," Heffernan says. "As you may already know, liquor licenses are issued by the State of Florida and the operators would need to resolve any issue regarding their license with the state."

Fargason, with the DBPR, explains that "to move an inactive license to a specific location, the license holder would file a change of location application, and a change of business name application, if applicable."

That process could drag on if there were "an open administrative case against the license holder," Fargason notes. "That would need to be resolved prior to operation."

But Fargason says administrative complaints and all information under investigation are confidential and exempt from public records requests "until ten days after probable cause has been found to exist by the probable cause panel or by the department."
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Jess Swanson is the news editor at New Times. She graduated from the University of Miami and has a master's degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism.
Contact: Jess Swanson