PITTSFIELD -- The city Licensing Board has suspended a Damoclesian penalty over the all-alcohol license for the Sportsman's Cafe, following a closing-time incident Jan. 20 in which a bartender allegedly expressed disdain for the board's authority.
After hearing from city police and the bar owner Monday afternoon, board members approved a three-day license suspension -- to be effective only if there is a similar incident in the future.
In addition, members said they would seriously consider reducing the 2 a.m. closing time now specified in the license for the Pecks Road bar to perhaps midnight.
Pittsfield Police Lt. Michael Grady said night shift Commander Lt. Katherine O'Brien observed "a parking lot still full of vehicles" at 1:53 a.m. on Jan. 20. The time was seven minutes prior to when the establishment must be closed down with patrons out of the building, according to the liquor license conditions.
Grady said O'Brien entered the bar at 2:02 a.m. and observed about 40 people inside, some still drinking alcohol. She reported that the bartender, Jay Pirzl, was asked if he was aware of the time and replied that he was.
The bartender, when told by O'Brien that the incident could be reported to the Licensing Board, replied that it was "no big deal," Grady told board members.
Neal Marshall, owner of the Sportsman's Cafe, agreed that O'Brien's account was correct and said he has reprimanded Pirzl and instituted new policies to ensure there were no future incidents, including signs informing patrons of the closing time and locking the door to new patrons at 1 a.m.
He said of the bartender's comment, "He's a good guy; he does a good job. It was probably something that came out and he didn't think."
Pirzl likely was overwhelmed by the situation, as he was the only employee on and "we usually have nowhere near that number of people" at closing time, Marshall said.
"I am concerned about the number of people in there," said board member Thomas Campoli.
Marshall said the typical number at closing time is a handful of patrons.
Board Vice Chairman Robert Quattrochi said he was bothered by the fact the patrons evidently didn't listen to the bartender when he told them it was closing time.
"I am also concerned about his reply [to O'Brien]," he said. "It kind of gives an idea of his attitude."
Quattrochi added later, "It's too bad he comes out with ‘it's no big deal.' That's bad."
Board members Richard Stockwell and Dana Doyle also said they were troubled by the bartender's comment.
Stockwell said he might have recommended an earlier closing time for the bar's license but said he would support the idea of a license suspension to be imposed if there is another incident. The board eventually agreed to that unanimously and agreed to consider an earlier closing if the problem continues.
Grady said there was a similar incident in December involving a small number of people inside at closing time.
He added that a crowded bar at or near closing time has traditionally been a precursor for problems with violence or license violations. "It sometimes goes hand in hand," he said, recommending that the issue be dealt with earlier rather than after there are fights or other issues.