PITTSFIELD -- The Licensing Board is giving a Wahconah Street bar a bit more rope after mandating a midnight closing time for 60 days following a seven-day liquor license suspension issued in April.
Owner John Giardina and Johnny's Beach Club were slapped with the penalties in the wake of a melee outside the bar March 15 that resulted in two officers being assaulted and required summoning all on-duty police officers in the city and officers from other jurisdictions as well.
On Monday, the board debated whether to lift the closing hour restriction, which Pittsfield Police Lt. Michael Grady told the board had resulted in no incidents being reported to police over the 60 days. He said police recommend keeping the closing hour at midnight, saying it would make the job of officers easier, especially during the summer months.
Grady added that he understands the bar was busiest from about 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., but police see a public safety concern for officers and for the neighborhood. "We are concerned about violence," he said.
During a board hearing on the March 15 incident, Grady said police had responded to calls for various incidents at the bar 45 times since January 2013. In addition, while operating in recent years under the name Pepe's Wings & Dogs -- but with the same ownership -- the liquor license was suspended twice.
Giardina told board members Monday he has taken steps to screen who is allowed to enter the bar late at night, and he blamed the incident on "a bad crowd in the city," which he said the bar has tried to keep out.
"I am as upset by this as everyone in this room," he said, adding that shootings or fights have occurred elsewhere in the city as well, and authorities have been unable to prevent those incidents.
He also argued that the bar has "served the penalty, paid the price," and Johnny's Beach Club should be allowed to return to the 2 a.m. closing time, at least on Sunday through Thursday nights.
However, board members stressed that the incident was an egregious one. The crowd was "so whipped up," Robert Quattrochi said, that it would not disperse after police arrived and officers were attacked.
"That was the OK Corral," said Chairman Carmen C. Massimiano. "We can't have that in our community."
On March 15, there were seven arrests and at least two city police officers were reported kicked and punched. Police said about 100 people were leaving the bar after the night was cut short by bar staff members, and some "highly intoxicated" people began acting belligerently toward responding officers.
Police had to call for backup, and eventually all on-duty Pittsfield police, along with help from the Lanesborough and Dalton police departments, state police and deputies from the Berkshire County Sheriff's Department, responded.
Board member Dana Doyle said that, while the fight began in the street outside the bar, police reported that many participants had been underage drinkers and/or were patrons over-served by the bar. "It wasn't just a few bad actors," she said. "It was a number of issues."
Board member Thomas Campoli said he was reluctant to solve he problem through a permanent early closing order. The owner "has to be able to see light at the end of the tunnel," if he is correcting the problems, Campoli said.
Quattrochi suggested a 1 a.m. closing on a trial basis, and that was adopted. The board will review the situation during its August meeting, Massimiano said, when it could decide to leave the hour at 1 a.m. or move it to 2 a.m. or back to midnight.
Grady said he would inform the board if there are new incidents at the bar with the later closing time.
Board member Richard Stockwell said at one point that the closing time decision is a difficult one, which the owner should consider carefully as well. If the time is restored to 2 a.m. and another incident occurs, he said, "It could be the last party at Johnny's Beach Club."
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