Methuselah Ordered By Licensing Board To Donate Five-Days of Profits
Methuselah was called before the Licensing Board to answer to an incident on Nov. 25, 2016, when a 17-year-old was drinking at the bar and then was shot moments after right outside the door.
The Licensing Board agreed on Monday to stay a license suspension for a year, meaning if there are any violations in the next year the suspension is automatically imposed, and to accept her offer to donate the profits for those five days to a non-profit.
"In lieu of closing, my client is willing to donate her profit, her income, during a period you suggest to underage drinking [prevention] or any non-profit organization so that the employees continue to work so we don't harm them in the process," attorney Timothy Shugrue said.
"I know it is unique."
Shugrue's proposal came right as the board was looking to suspend the bar's license anywhere from three days to seven days. The issue centered on the underage drinking incident that board member Richard Stockwell compared to an incident at Lach's Lounge a year ago in which that bar faced a seven-day suspension.
"I think what happened at Methuselah, unfortunately, mirrors exactly what happened at Lach's Lounge. There was a violation at the bar. The gentleman left the bar. It was outside on city property where both of these individuals were shot," Stockwell said.
"I have a very strong feeling that this board cannot treat North Street, the upscale bars on North Street, differently than the bars on Wahconah Street, Tyler Street, or Madison, or Onota."
James Dominguez was inside Lach's on Jan. 23, 2016; when he left, he was shot and killed in the parking lot. Responding officers found patrons who were heavily intoxicated — a violation of overserving. The Licensing Board issued the seven-day suspension as well as forced the bar to close at midnight for two months.
That hearing also included the mayor issuing a statement arguing for the board to "deliver a strong message."
At Methuselah, a 17-year-old man was drinking at Methuselah and upon leaving, he was shot outside.
But Board member Thomas Campoli doesn't see the two incidents as being the same. It was just a few months before the Lach's suspension that its owners were brought before the board for a separate incident. In that case, in October 2015, an altercation occurred inside the bar and one man left and ended up shooting someone outside. A firearm was also passed between individuals in the bar and the police say a bartender misled them about it.
"That came on the heels of a much more troubling incident at Lachs," Campoli said.
Methuselah hasn't been perfect, however, and has gone before the Licensing Board in the past for overcrowding. Then the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission issued a one-day suspension to Methuselah's license.
But, on Monday there was nobody looking to send any strong messages about illegal activity. Instead, downtown business merchants and the president of Downtown Pittsfield Inc. argued the importance of the Methuselah to North Street's business growth.
"To us, this is a strategically important business," said Downtown Pittsfield Inc. President Jesse Cook-Dubin.
Cook-Dubin went on to say that the long-term efforts to revitalize the city's downtown depends on entrepreneurs taking risks to open businesses in struggling blocks. On both sides of Methuselah, the blocks are filled with struggling businesses rotating in and out. But "this block is becoming one of those strong blocks."
He was worried about the "stigma" caused by a suspension and the ultimate loss of business Cohen would possibly see. He added that the bar is where his company and other companies bring young professionals they are trying to recruit.
"This is a good citizen in our community, not just Mrs. Cohen but this whole operation," Cook-Dubin said.
Steven Valenti, owner of Steven Valenti's Clothing for Men, echoed those sentiments and he was joined by a few other downtown business people. Meanwhile, David Hall of the Rotary Club praised Cohen for her community work that includes donations each year for a raffle the club uses to raise money to send children to summer camps.
"We depend on the good businesses in our community for these donations," Hall said.
Despite how good of a community partner Cohen is, the board still felt that it needed to treat the bar fairly compared to other incidents such as at Johnny's Beach Club, Lach's Lounge, and Chameleons. Campoli, however, said all of those incidents — minus the second at Lach's Lounge — had started from altercations inside the establishments and the bars had previous violations.
"It is obvious there is no nexus between the shooting and anything that happened inside of the bar," Campoli said.
In Methuselah's case, there was no altercation inside the bar. Further, Methuselah argued it had done everything it could to prevent a violation. The 17-year-old who was shot was described as looking older than his age and had presented doorman Shane Tatro an identification card. Police found a Massachusetts license in the victim's pocket which had him listed as being age 25.
Tatro, however, said that he remembered it being a Connecticut license and the man was 35. But, Shugrue said maybe it was, in fact, the license officers found. Nonetheless, between facial hair and tattoos, the man allegedly didn't look underage and Tatro said he checked the photo, the birthdate, and the name.
"He didn't set off any alarms," Tatro said of the identification.
Board member Diane Pero, however, looked at the photos of the man and at the identification and said there are a number of inconsistencies in the photo on the license found and the photos of the victim. Further, she said there are signs in the photo of the victim that indicate he may not have been over the age of 21.
Despite the inconsistency in statements and consideration whether or not it was an honest mistake, it is still a violation. For that, the board agreed it needed to take some action.
Pero said because of the actions the board took against others in similar situations, she couldn't "look the other way" in this case. She advocated for a suspension. Board member Dana Doyle then motioned for a three-day suspension but that failed to get a second. Stockwell ultimately motioned for Shugrue's suggestion, which was adopted by the board.
Tags: license board, license suspension, North Street,
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