PITTSFIELD -- After four months of an early last call, Johnny's Beach Club is back to its regular closing time.
By a 3-1 vote, with Richard Stockwell absent, the Licensing Board on Monday afternoon allowed the Wahconah Street bar to remain open until 2 a.m., the latest allowed by state law.
In the wake of a melee outside the bar in March, the five-member panel had mandated a midnight closing for two months, following a seven-day liquor license suspension in April.
At its June meeting, the board extended the closing hour to 1 a.m. for 60-day trial run, based on Pittsfield police Lt. Michael Grady reporting no further incidents during the previous 60-day period.
On Monday, Grady said the bar remained incident-free during the 1 a.m. closing, prompting the board's majority to lift its sanctions.
"If we whack [bar owner John Giardina] for bad behavior, we need to [reward] him for good behavior," said board Chairman Carmen C. Massimiano.
On March 15, 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. Seven arrests were made and at least two city police officers were reported kicked and punched, during the incident.
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 Office, responded.
The melee, according to police, was the worst of the 45 various incidents reported at the bar 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 the board he has beefed up security measures and taken steps to keep out unwanted patrons he claims are at the heart of unruly and violent behavior in the area.
"We've lit up the place, put in more cameras ... and we're doing a membership, not letting in people we don't know," he said.
Giardina said patrons must fill out an application, and if approved, they get a card that they must show at the door with valid identification.
Board member Dana Doyle doubted the membership plan is the answer, but she gave a cautionary "yes" to the 2 a.m. closing.
"The underlying problem is what happens in the bar ... where people who have had too much to drink are in a large crowd," she said.
Doyle vowed the bar would face "progressive punishment" if involved in another serious violation such as the "riotous conditions" of five months ago, according to the board.
While Robert Quattrochi praised Giardina for his bar's recent good behavior, he felt the establishment won't easily shake its reputation and voted against the 2 a.m. closing.
"The compiled history at your place makes me apprehensive," he said. "I don't know if [four] months makes a difference."
To reach Dick Lindsay:
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