Old v. new – Lounge drama in KirkwoodA picture of Hosea Williams, left, and Franklin Morris, right, that hangs in the Morris' Restaurant and Lounge in Kirkwood. File photo by Dan Whisenhunt
For the last few months there has been a standoff between neighbors and the owners of Morris Restaurant and Lounge on Oakview Road in Kirkwood.
On one level, it’s a battle over nuisance and noise. At a different level, it’s a battle pitting the old Kirkwood against the new. Morris Restaurant has been in business since the 1960′s. Hosea Williams, the civil rights leader, was a patron and his picture is on the wall by the front door. It’s a historically black-owned business in a community that is becoming increasingly white as new families move in.
The neighbors says Morris’ children have turned the lounge into a rowdier club that keeps them up at all hours. There are reports of fights in the parking lot and trash in the neighbors’ yards. The business is owned by the family of the late Franklin Morris. Morris’ son, Roosevelt, said he feels that that Kirkwood’s gentrification is driving out black-owned businesses like his. He said he can’t do anything about the actions of patrons when they are not on his property.
“”We can’t control grown people,” he said during an interview in February. “I’m doing what I’m supposed to do within the confines of the law.”
Until recently, Atlanta Police hadn’t issued any citations to the owners, but on April 5 the owners received a citation for playing loud music. The case will go to court on May 8.
“While speaking with witness, we heard a DJ speaking through a sound system coming from inside the lounge at 2254 Oakview Road,” the police report says. “It was plainly audible to me. The song ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams started playing inside the lounge. The song was plainly audible enough for me to hear what song it was and the words to the song. I was standing slightly more than 50 feet away from the lounge at this time. I spoke with club owner Mr. Franklin B. Morris. I explained to Mr. Morris about the ‘plainly audible’ city noise ordinance.”
Decaturish.com attempted to contact Roosevelt Morris about the citation, but he didn’t respond. A reporter spoke with him at length several weeks ago after being made aware of the residents’ complaints. At that time, no citation had been issued and there were only conflicting accounts between Morris and his neighbors.
Morris said his business has been an important part of Kirkwood’s history and an active part of the community. He said since his new neighbors moved in, he’s faced multiple complaints and filming of activities around the restaurant.
A reporter tried several times to get residents living around the club to go on record, but they declined, saying they were afraid of retaliation. Jim Chrencik lives on Memorial Drive and says he can hear the club from his house.
“Even being that far I hear continuous car alarms, screaming yelling every so often, gun shots,” he said. “”If I’m hearing it 1,000 feet away, I can’t even imagine it living 100 feet away. People bring out these souped up cars and will do really loud screeching burnouts in front of Morris’. It’s a nightmare.”
The neighbors contend that they never had a problem when Morris’ father ran things. Franklin Morris was more likely to play old school R&B music and attract an older clientele.
Morris’ acknowledged that things are little different now.
“It’s hip hop,” he said.
The case has put Atlanta officials in an awkward spot, too. They’re faced with the prospect of going after a business that’s a link to Kirkwood’s past. Zone 6 Commander Maj. Timothy Peek said during the March 10 Kirkwood Neighbors’ Organization meeting that the department receives calls complaining about Morris’ and calls defending it.
“My prayer is that somehow, someway, that we can get in there and have some one-on-one true dialogue to break down this barrier,” Peek said. “I don’t know if 30 of you all want to show up and patronize a place at one time. My prayer is that somehow we can break that barrier and coexist.”