Student attendance at the Armadillo Grill dipped to almost non-existent last Saturday night, and for good reason.
Around midnight, undercover North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement agents entered the Armadillo Grill during a routine--though unannounced-check of campus locations with Alcoholic Beverage Control permits.
The officials said they were surprised to find many young-looking people consuming alcohol beverages without showing proper identification, and cited nine people--seven Duke students and two underage younger siblings--for underage possession of alcohol.
"We didn't go in expecting to find any [underage people]. But we saw quite a few who appeared to be youthful," said ALE agent Mike McKeithan, one of the officers who was present. "Any time you go into an establishment and find quite a large number of [underage] people, it's always surprising."
Although the state officers said underage people with alcohol in their possession can be arrested, they only issued citations Saturday.
"If at all possible, no one wants to go to jail," McKeithan said. "It's basically a citation to appear in court, and the [district attorney] will process it there."
Sue Wasiolek, dean of students and assistant vice president for student affairs, said she did not know that officers would be conducting checks this weekend, although she said unannounced visits have occurred before.
ALE District IV Supervisor Jeff Lasater--who covers Durham County--said ALE is legally permitted to conduct unannounced visits to any places that have ABC permits during any business hours. He said a violation report will be drafted about the Saturday incident, which will then be presented to the North Carolina ABC commission. The commission could decide to suspend or revoke the Armadillo Grill's permit, prohibiting the eatery from serving alcoholic beverages.
"Our primary mission is the enforcement of ABC... laws, so that includes enforcement at all licensed ABC outlets," Lasater added.
McKeithan said a similar incident occurred at the bar a few months ago, although he said the establishment has taken steps in the past to curtail underage drinking.
But he added that students might not have seen the last of their badges. "If there's a place that appears to have a problem, we will be in there more frequently," he said. "We didn't witness anybody selling to an underage person so there was no employees charged."
Wasiolek said she does not know what liability the Armadillo Grill shares, adding that Jim Wulforst, director of dining services, will investigate the incident. "The situation is certainly a concern to us," she said. "Any establishment that serves or sells alcohol is always in a vulnerable position particularly with the proliferation of fake IDs."
Freshman Jo Palmer, one of the women cited Saturday night, said she felt she was part of a larger scheme by the state police officers to generate money from their citations, adding that she has paid a $125 fine. "I was the guinea pig for their operation. This officer said they were there often, which kind of surprised me. I've been at the 'Dillo an average of three nights a week," Palmer said. "If he really wanted to make money and bring in some revenue, he should have come in on a Thursday night."
Some of the students cited for underage drinking agreed that the Armadillo Grill needs to have a stricter alcohol policy, including bartenders who card all students who want to drink alcoholic beverages.
"It's stupid that the Armadillo Grill [doesn't] card people," said sophomore Elizabeth Trenkle, another student charged Saturday. "It's so known around campus that you can go there and not get carded."
Sophomore Emily McDowell, who also received a citation, said she was in the wrong place at the wrong time and agreed the Armadillo Grill needs to do more carding. She added, however, that students need an outlet such as the Armadillo Grill on campus. With bands Friday and Saturday nights and trivia nights each Thursday, the restaurant has filled the void left when the Hideaway, a popular campus bar, closed two years ago.
"I definitely think that people need a place on campus where we can go and have fun," McDowell said.
Trenkle agreed Armadillo is a great place to go, especially to watch basketball games and hang out with friends. "I would be very sad to see it go," she said.
Sophomore Lara Petredis and junior Alison Drucker, who were also cited, declined comment. The two other students who received citations, freshman Kathryn Harrington and sophomore Lindsay Stanga, could not be reached for comment.
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