Hoboken bars have been put on notice, as the Bhalla administration’s crackdown on the city’s hospitality industry hit a stunning crescendo at last night’s unprecedented Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board hearing.
A total of 15 bars were facing penalties for a wide range of violations. The list includes 1 Republik, The Ainsworth, Cadillac Cantina, Finnegan’s, Grand Vin, Green Rock, Hoboken Bar & Grill, Mills Tavern, Marty O’Brien’s, Mulligan’s, Northern Soul, The Shannon, (the bar formerly known as) Teak On the Hudson, Turtle Club and Village Pourhouse.
“Thursday night’s ABC hearing was unprecedented in its scope of enforcement,” says Hoboken attorney Frank Marciano. “Hearings usually have 5- 15 people in attendance and the nuances of violations are usually considered. Meetings are usually over in an hour but at this meeting there were at least 100 people in attendance and the law department was fully staffed and prepared to try any case that did not settle. The meeting was going strong at 9pm when I left. It was like the wild west with a new sheriff in Town.”
While some of the violations were more or less routine (noise complaints), others were pretty severe.
According to Hoboken Spokesperson Juan Melli, “There has been an uptick in disturbing events including violent assaults. As can be seen in the reports, incidents include a bar patron that was recently left with permanent brain damage after being assaulted. Multiple officers have been assaulted or spat upon by intoxicated patrons. A patron had a plate smashed over her head in a violent attack, and, it is alleged, that despite her cries for help and pleas to hold her attacker, the bar staff escorted the attacker out the door and aided in their escape. There have been patrons rushed to the hospital after they were found semi-conscious in bars.”
In kind, the penalties handed out at the hearing were severe—in one case, fatal.
The Alcohol Beverage Control Board ruled for the temporary suspension of a 11 liquor licenses, meaning bars will have to remain closed for a certain number of days. Some of those suspensions took effect immediately, while others will begin on March 3.
The move that shocked the entire room was the revocation of 1 Republik’s liquor license, following a string of violent incidents at the Washington Street establishment. The owners reportedly have until May to liquidate their business and transfer the liquor license.
- 1 Republik: Closed on March 3, 2018 and shall close on May 21, 2018 for a 30-day suspension. After the 30-day suspension, the establishment shall permanently close pending transfer/sale of the license to new ownership.
- Hoboken Bar and Grill: 30-day suspension to begin immediately (February 23, 2018).
- Green Rock Tap and Grill: 20-day suspension, one day of which is March 3, 2018.
- Mill’s Tavern: 24-day suspension which includes being closed March 3, 2018.
- The Shannon: two-day suspension to be served March 3 and March 4, 2018.
- Six other establishments agreed to settlements as well, but received lesser penalties.
“This represents a major accomplishment in fulfilling my commitment on Inauguration Day to address this public safety nuisance,” said Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla. “The vast majority of bar owners are responsible license holders, but a very small number of establishments have failed to adequately control their patrons and the activities within their premises, leading to severe public safety issues. The discipline agreed to by the owners is appropriate and I hope will lead to an understanding that public safety is a top priority and that the ABC board will not hesitate to enforce the liquor license regulations.”
The significance of March 3 is not lost on the bar community. The first Saturday in March—formerly Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day— has recently evolved into LepreCon after the cancellation of parade. This has traditionally been the busiest bar day of the year in Hoboken, a day that can make or break bars/bartenders/bar staff.
The State of New Jersey Attorney General’s Division of Alcohol Beverage Control has agreed to send 12 to 14 State ABC detectives to Hoboken on March 3, 2018. Along with Hoboken Police ABC detectives, they will be monitoring establishments to ensure compliance with all ABC regulations, including not admitting underage guests, not overserving patrons, not exceeding capacity, and other health and security regulations.
“I am extremely thankful to New Jersey Office of the Attorney General and its ABC Division Director David P. Rible for his partnership in protecting the public safety and quality of life of our community,” added Mayor Bhalla.
The reaction from bar owners was obviously pained. “A lot of really good people got hurt today,” said Mike Gallucci, owner of Green Rock and Grand Vin. “It was a total disregard for the livelihoods of a lot of people, owners and employees. A complete lack of understanding for what we deal with as business owners,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Tara Whelan Kovatch, from The Shannon, told us, “We have to deal with a lot in the industry. Last night I had to do one of the hardest things. I had to go and tell my team that they would not be working on what’s normally their best day of the year. It breaks my heart that my bartenders, bar backs, security and DJs are going to suffer tremendously because of the actions of someone who was denied entry into my establishment. Unfortunately, I’m not alone. Several other owners had to do the same thing I did.”
She added, “I hope that those people who created incidents on that day know and understand the consequences that so many others are suffering because of their behavior.”
The severity of these rulings was genuinely stunning to the Hoboken bar community and its patrons.
“Liquor Licenses are strictly controlled by state regulations which give municipalities a lot of discretion when it comes to overseeing the sale of liquor,” said Marciano. “Most of what happened last night was the standard plea-bargaining scenario, where you either took what was offered or faced much longer closures than offered. There is what is called ‘strict liability’ with violations, so that the City only must prove an incident occurred and not the motive or reason for the incident. With this standard it is very hard to defend charges made against a bar or restaurant. It is very unfair but it’s the law.”
“I agree that the city must do what’s necessary to protect our quality of life,” said First Ward Councilman Michael DeFusco, “but I would much prefer to see a more collaborative approach that takes the needs of both residents and hospitality employees into account, rather than the Mayor’s approach.”
“As someone who supports our local businesses, including Hoboken’s bars and restaurants, it is unconscionable, and frankly scary, as to how the City has directed its forces so swiftly against the bar industry,” said one bar patron. “To abjectly close one bar, while working to push several more toward their own demise, sends a clear signal to how this Administration will conduct its business—not just in this segment of our economy, but other segments as well.”
One prevailing sentiment is that the City has other issues to deal with.
Says the bar patron (who asked to remain anonymous), “The streets have craters for potholes, sidewalks have dog feces and litter all over them, the infrastructure is from sometime in 1900s and the public school system is decades behind. The Mayor and his team may claim some sort of ‘victory’ here, but to me this is the classic example of putting a hat on a pig. The pig is still a pig, and you went and ruined the hat,” adding, “so nobody is confused—Hoboken is the pig and the bar/restaurant industry is the hat.”
— hMAG (@hMAG) February 23, 2018
The apparent frustration over the City’s inability to work with its hospitality industry has been echoed by many involved.
“We don’t have support from this town, and that’s clear,” said one bar owner, who asked to remain anonymous. “We should be working together, not against each other—it’s a hostile work environment, and the bar business isn’t easy in this economy. We could really use someone saying, ‘Come to Hoboken,’ and inviting people to enjoy what this town has to offer. Instead we have leadership saying, ‘Don’t come to Hoboken, the bars are rowdy.’ When you’re facing that and struggling all year long, but you have a chance to fill your bar on one event, some bars become desperate.”
“So many thousands upon thousands of people over the years have great memories of partying in Hoboken in their youth,” said attorney Frank Marciano. “But with this recent enforcement effort, one of the most defining and important industries of Hoboken is under attack. The streets may get quiet but many thousands of people working in and around that industry will be taking their money and time to Jersey City.” He added, “I for one, like the chaos and energy the young kids bring to Hoboken, but I am in the minority. The stroller moms have slowly and surely taken over the zeitgeist of Hoboken.”
For now, it appears the bars will have to take their lumps and toe the line.
“Like having driver’s license owning Liquor License is considered a privilege not a right, and unless the City’s ABC board acts in a clearly arbitrary and capricious manner, its actions regarding enforcement will be upheld by the State ABC,” said Maricano. “Since the city is acting on violations, and the penalty for those violations are set by the State, it would be very, very hard for any license holder to fight the City on the enforcement of its law.”
Meanwhile, the staff of these establishments—many of whom live tip jar to tip jar—are at a complete loss. “Employees have no direct way to challenge the loss of income caused by the shutdowns,” says Marciano.