Complaints follow Easthampton official’s failed attempt to revoke liquor license
EASTHAMPTON — A member of the city’s Licensing Board said he thought the board should consider revoking the Art Bar Cafe’s liquor license at a meeting earlier this month, prompting criticism from the business owner and Mayor Michael A. Tautznik.
Board Chairman Raymond Redfern and member Jason Duda did not support the idea and it was not voted on at the March 6 meeting, but board member William Sullivan argued with Art Bar Cafe co-owner Alexei Levine for 30 minutes about Sullivan’s belief that the cafe was holding a “pocket license.”
Levine said he was shocked by what he called Sullivan’s “hostile” attitude. “I really don’t know what it is. Everyone else in town and town officials have been welcoming,” he said.
Sullivan defended his position Friday, saying that Levine should consider the public need, since his cafe is currently closed. “The public need is why we issue permits,” he said.
Levine and business partner Valerie Hood opened the Art Bar Cafe last summer, but Levine said they decided to close for the winter in January because they were “tired” from running the cafe and their other business, the Massage School. In addition, Hood broke her leg.
This is not the first time business owners dealing with the board have complained of being targeted by Sullivan. Popcorn Noir owners Kristen Davis and Thomas Doherty said Sullivan’s opposition delayed their license because he was the board’s sole opponent to above-quota license requests from them and Riff’s Joint last year. Those meetings repeatedly dissolved into shouting matches. An above-quota license, which must be endorsed by the town, is granted by the state legislature and is not among the city’s transferable licenses.
“I’ve heard some remarks about it from others in the community,” Tautznik said, although he added he does not attend the Licensing Board meetings. “Some have been complaining about it, but others got through the process fine.”
At the March 6 meeting, the board unanimously approved an above-quota license for John Casey Douglass, Apollo Grill owner, to open a new restaurant on Main Street.
Tautznik said he doesn’t see any cause for the “hassle” with the Art Bar Cafe’s license. “People who issue permits can’t be whimsical about it. Their decisions have to be based in regulation, not to satisfy an individual’s whim,” he said.
Levine said Sullivan’s behavior could give Easthampton an anti-business reputation that it doesn’t deserve. “We’ve had help from everyone except this one person,” he said.
Sullivan said he called Levine in because he was concerned that the Art Bar Cafe was closed and when it was open, it was only on Fridays and Saturdays. “It really doesn’t seem fair you have this license and it really isn’t being exercised as it should be,” he told Levine.
He also informed Levine at the meeting that the board had the right to revoke a “pocket license.” That term refers to a license that is held by a business but is unused, a situation that can be an issue for other businesses, given that the town can grant just a limited number of licenses.
But Levine said his license does not fall into that category, since the Art Bar Cafe has an above-quota license which is tied to the property and cannot be used by another business. In addition, he said, he is still hosting a monthly event at the cafe and plans to reopen in June.
“By having the license, it’s not doing any harm to anyone,” he said. “I can’t succeed if you revoke my license.”
Duda agreed that revoking the license would not benefit anyone. “All we’re saying is we’d like to see a little more progress,” he said.
The board is also calling Michael Baer, who received an above-quota license to transform his Chapman Avenue home into an inn in 2011, to come to the board’s April 3 meeting to discuss his project’s progress.
Rebecca Everett can be reached at email@example.com.