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Pittsfield Restaurant Told to Do Better After Underage Drinking Allegations
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
05:25AM / Thursday, February 29, 2024
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The restaurant received a seasonal all-alcohol restaurant license two years ago when it opened in the former Papa Gino's. Owner Armando Chaires had run a couple of restaurants before, one being Taste of Mexico in Albany, N.Y.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — "You have to do a better job," a member of the Licensing Board said about a Merrill Rd. eatery after allegations of underage drinking.
On Monday, the board filed a show cause hearing for El Habanero Mexican Grill after a December incident, but the owner was warned that future offenses will result in a liquor license suspension.
"That's a really bad combination. Young people drinking, getting drunk, and driving. That's a bad scene so we have to take this seriously," Chair Thomas Campoli said. "By the same token, you haven't been before us."
The restaurant received a seasonal all-alcohol restaurant license two years ago when it opened in the former Papa Gino's.  Owner Armando Chaires had run a couple of restaurants before, one being Taste of Mexico in Albany, N.Y.
Capt. Matthew Hill reported that police responded to the restaurant on Dec. 24 after midnight when they received a tip that a man, who was wanted for an incident at another location, was on the premises.  He was later arrested and found to be intoxicated and 18 years old.
"The officers entered the establishment, they located the male, made a positive identification, and escorted him out. During their time in the business, officers made the observation that many of the patrons looked inside looked under age," Hill said.
"The male escorted from Habanero's was confirmed to be 18 years of age. Officers described him as unsteady on his feet, had glassy bloodshot eyes, and a strong odor of alcoholic beverage emanating from his breath. Once at the station, officers asked him how many drinks he had had at Habanero's to which he replied four or five."
This happened on a night when there were ID checks and wristbands administered at the door, a green band indicating that the person is old enough to drink and a red band indicating that they are between 18 and 20.
In January, Hill advised the owner to limit these events to those 21 years and older.
"I'm very sorry for what happened that night," Chaires said, explaining that the restaurant is always careful and has two security guards at the door for these nights.
He said the arrested man showed identification proving that he was 21 but the police did not find a fake ID on hand, just an ID showing that he was 18.
"When I went in, I noticed a lot of the patrons did look young," another police officer said, adding that the police were also sent an Instagram photo of an allegedly underage customer with a beer in his hand at El Habanero Mexican Grill in November.
According to police, five to ten people who seemed to be intoxicated followed the man outside while he was being taken away.
Chaires said that he mans the bar and would not serve a person with a red wristband.  Police could not remember if the arrested man was wearing one or not-- he was said to be taken away quickly.
"They didn't take long," Chaires explained. "They were there for maybe one minute."
He reported that since the incident, the restaurant has been "very careful."
Campoli pointed out that it is the license holder's job to ensure that underage people are not getting served as well as people who are already under the influence.  
"What we got here is both of those bad things appear to have happened, and we can't tolerate that, this board can't tolerate that," he said
Board members agreed that the wristband method does not seem to be effective and that mixing 18, 19, and 20-year-olds in with the 21 and over crowd is a problem waiting to happen.
"I know you've said you're sorry a couple of times but what bothers me is you just have this one particular issue that was brought before us but when the police went there that night, they felt there were other people there that were underage drinking and drinking too much, and they felt at another incident there were other people drinking that were under 21," Councilor At Large Kathy Amuso said.
"So you're only here for one incident, but it appears that whatever you have in place is now working like it should. I am going to suggest that you have to do a better job. You have to do a better job."
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