|Methuselah's Liquor License Suspended Following Overcrowding|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
07:45PM / Monday, September 24, 2018
|Owner Yuki Cohen tells the board there was a miscommunication and the doorman didn't show up at work.|
A team from the Hangar including the owner, the bartender on that night, the manager, and the restaurant's attorney gave their side of the story Monday afternoon.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Methuselah Bar and Lounge will be closed for the next five days after the Licensing Board issued a suspension Monday afternoon.
The board issued the suspension after the Police Department found about double the amount of people allowed by its occupancy permit inside the bar.
"This is the third overcrowding incident we've had with them on record, two with the Pittsfield Police Department and one with the ABCC," said Capt. Michael Grady.
The issue dates back to July 6 when police came upon an "extremely intoxicated man" just a few blocks away from the bar. Police allege that the man said he was drinking at Methuselah — a violation of overserving.
An officer then went to the North Street bar and began counting people but "stopped when he hit 80 and he guessed there was another 20 in the bar," Grady said.
In 2015, the establishment was cited for overcrowding by both Pittsfield Police and the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. In response, owner Yuki Cohen had the bar hire a doorman to manage the crowds.
"On the night in question, the doorman didn't show," her attorney, Dennis Egan, said.
Egan doesn't dispute Grady's allegation that there were too many people inside but he did contend the charge of overservice, saying it couldn't be proved that the man found a few blocks away was ever actually in the bar.
Beyond the overcrowding issues, the bar narrowly avoided a license suspension
a year and a half or so ago when police alleged it was serving minors — particularly a minor who was ultimately shot outside of the establishment. In that case, the board agreed to stay a five-day suspension as long as Cohen donated profits during said period to a nonprofit organization.
Methuselah was unable to avoid a suspension this time, though it will only have to sit out one Friday night and won't miss a Saturday. The Licensing Board enacted the five-day suspension from Monday through Friday, Sept. 28. The bar is allowed to re-open on Saturday.
While the punishment isn't overly severe, the Fire Department's warnings sent on Monday may be even more important. Fire Inspector Lt. Randy Stein said the department can require a sprinkler system be installed once an establishment goes 50 percent over its capacity.
Stein said if there is another capacity violation of even one person, there will be at minimum a fine and at maximum an order that a new sprinkler system be installed, which could lead to the closure of the business.
"If you go over capacity by half of your capacity just once it can be ordered to be sprinklered," Stein said.
The costly installation of a sprinkler system would be the landlord's responsibility.
In other business, the Hangar of Pittsfield was given a warning after allegedly overserving a man who was later hospitalized when he crashed his vehicle and for refusing to provide video footage of the evening.
Grady said Officer Michael Schilling on June 27 responded to an accident near Pittsfield High School involving a man who had just recently turned 21. Charges of operating under the influence are being sought and officers went to the Hangar the following day to see how much he had had to drink — the man allegedly told paramedics he had 10 shots.
But managers at the Hangar refused. And now the footage is no longer available at all.
"This is the first time I've ever had an establishment tell us no," Grady said.
The bartender on that night claimed that the man had five Moscow mules in less than 90 minutes. The bartender said she had cut the man off and given him water, and then he "ran" out of the restaurant, leaving an unpaid bar tab behind.
When officers came the following day for the video, manager Rabekah Ashley Simeone said she was unsure of what to do and that someone higher in the company's management told her not to hand over the video. Now the video is missing.
Licensing Board member Richard Stockwell remembered just two years ago when the owner of Michael's Restaurant in Stockbridge faced criminal charges after deleting video of a man drinking at the restaurant who was later in a fatal crash. He said even if the Hangar didn't want to hand it over right away, it should have at least protected the video in case the courts needed to subpoena it.
"That film should have been taken out and kept someplace," Stockwell said. "When somebody tells me the film is no longer in existence, I think of the Commonwealth vs. Michaels."
Nonetheless, the board agreed that five drinks in less than 90 minutes is excessive. The charge of excessive service is being kept on file given it is the only blemish in the Hangar's record. The board is also considering creating a policy requiring restaurants and bars to hand over any video the police seek in order to keep a liquor license — Grady chimed in to say that if there is ever a criminal issue, the department wouldn't hesitate to secure a search warrant for it.