Methuselah Loses License for Two Days
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A bar and restaurant owned by a city councilor had its license suspended for two days for violating state COVID-19 guidelines.
On Monday, the Licensing Board voted to suspend Councilor at Large Yuki Cohen's liquor license for Methuselah Bar and Lounge, scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday, after a hearing for three alleged pandemic violation complaints that included pictures and anonymous testimony.
Because of the anonymous nature of the evidence submitted, the board weighed in on the fact that this is not Cohen's first time in front of the Licensing Board, as Methuselah faced a five-day liquor license suspension in 2018.
"I feel like in light of what the history is, I don't think we can just pretend that there's no history," Chairman Thomas Campoli said, concluding with the other board members that this case had to be handled differently than if it was a first violation.
On Jan. 15, the board held a hearing for two of the violations occurring on Aug. 22 and Dec. 11. It was decided to continue the hearing for the third violation and voting until Monday, Jan. 25.
The Aug. 22 violation was based on a picture of two patrons facing the bar when bar seating was illegal, with no sign of menus, silverware, dishware, or food. The Dec. 11 violation was a picture of Ward 6 City Councilor Dina Guiel Lampiasi and her wife seated at the bar with Cohen behind the bar not wearing a mask.
The third violation, hear Monday, concerned anonymous pictures sent to Senior Sanitarian Andy Cambi depicting people standing up without masks on, no sign of food, patrons standing at the bar, and a lack of social distancing between tables.
Included with these pictures was a testimony from a woman going by the name of "Jane Doe."
The woman did not wish to be identified but said the pictures prove she made a "bad decision" to be at the lounge on Oct. 30.
"Looking around I noticed that no one was eating, it was well after 10 PM and it was clearly a bar scene. I was wearing my mask and decided to have a drink," she wrote on Dec. 18. "I ordered the drink at the bar, and the chairs were scattered, some people sitting. People were gathering all around standing, some with masks on some without. Yuki served me a drink and she was indeed wearing her mask."
She said she started feeling flu-like symptoms on Nov. 4 including fatigue and loss of smell with the rest of her family starting to experience the symptoms on Nov. 6. The family tested positive days later for COVID-19.
The woman said she had been very careful but made "one bad decision — and it was bad," and doesn't blame the bar for her desire for social interaction. She does have a problem with Cohen defending herself in the media.
"Methuselah and Yuki Cohen, the owner, need to be held to the same standards as all other restaurant owners," she wrote in her testimony. "Take responsibility, admit you made a mistake, and pay the price."
Cambi felt that there were clear violations in the pictures from Oct. 30.
"I feel that at this night, there was no control of the establishment," he said. "I feel that the owner and the employee could not safely adhere to the safety standards."
Before this meeting, Cohen was asked to provide point of sale documents for the nights that she allegedly did not serve food with alcohol. On Monday she brought forward an overview of total sales for October showing that sales were a law-abiding 60 percent food and 40 percent alcohol, but not did provide documents for the specific nights and transactions in question.
Regulations put in place last March do not allow the serving of alcohol without accompanying food to deter people from hanging out at bars.
Methuselah uses a modern POS system that operates on an iPad and records transactions digitally. Cohen, however, said she was not able to do that on the system she was using because of the time that had passed before receiving the request. The Oct. 30 violation notice from the Board of Health was not received until Dec. 18, she said.
The board recognized that there were things in all of the photos that were off, but were hesitant to rely too much on anonymous claims. Members acknowledged that there was a picture of a man standing in front of a high traffic area without a mask on and of people standing at the bar, but agreed that they had no way of knowing if the patrons in these photos had a meal or not.
"We get these, anonymous person who says she was there and we can't talk to her and she can't talk to us and we're looking at these photos trying to make heads or tails of the photos and we can't do it. We can see it shows certain things, it's showing a guy without a mask on it shows the guys standing at the bar with the bartender nearby," Campoli said. "I believe those are probably technical violations, I believe that but the seriousness I have a question with and I also have a question with how these photographs came about. And again, I'm not saying there are no value but the value is diminished based on the circumstances."
The man standing without a mask was identified as a man named "Donnie" and wrote a statement saying he was reminded three times to put his mask on by Cohen.
Campoli said the board was fair to her during Methuselah's past violations and it is its duty to be fair to her in this situation.
Cohen requested respectfully when the board deliberated her suspension that they consider the fact that her total sales were about $1,000 for the month of November.
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