Police investigating Amherst restaurant Porta for alleged violations

  • Porta in Amherst  STAFF PHOTO/SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer
Published: 4/1/2019 3:15:27 PM

AMHERST — Amherst Police said they are investigating possible violations of rules for serving alcohol to minors and lack of compliance with the terms of municipal permits after observing operations at the downtown restaurant Porta over the weekend.

“There will be an ongoing investigation specific to violations of alcohol,” Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone said on Monday.

Livingstone said it is uncertain how the matter will be resolved, but police, municipal inspectors and the new Board of License commissioners will likely be involved.

The Board of License commissioners replaces the Select Board in the oversight role of issuing permits and holding disciplinary hearings for bars and restaurants.

According to dispatch logs provided by the department, police made observations at the 51 East Pleasant St. site between 10:18 p.m. and 11:59 p.m. Friday.

Police say they are investigating possible violations that include more than 50 patrons entering the establishment without having their IDs scanned by a machine designed to detect fake driver’s licenses; staff not announcing the last call for alcohol and continuing to serve customers past 11:30 p.m., when Porta is required to close based on it being licensed only as a class 1 restaurant; guests continuing to be allowed into the establishment after 11:30 p.m., even though it was supposed to be closed for the night; and customers requesting food being told that no meals or appetizers were available.

After making the observations, officers at 12:09 a.m. Saturday arrested a 19-year-old Melrose man for being a minor in possession of alcohol and violating the town’s open container bylaw after he was seen leaving Porta with a cup of alcohol. Officers determined he had used a fake Maine license to access the bar and get an alcoholic beverage, according to the police logs.

A subsequent police check Saturday at 2:38 p.m. found Porta in compliance with all municipal rules and no additional problems.

Contacted by email, Richard Annunziata, owner of Porta, did not respond to the alleged violations, but instead wrote that he is contemplating filing a federal lawsuit, and may seek a temporary restraining order, both against Building Commissioner Robert Morra. Annunziata contends that Morra may be violating Porta’s rights by speaking publicly about concerns with the operation.

Porta opened March 2 and is still trying to become a class 2 restaurant, in which it can remain open until 1 a.m. as a bar and restaurant. It also has a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals to have a food window open until 2 a.m., serving pizza and other food items to people leaving the downtown bars.

In October, during the hearing on issuing an alcohol license to Porta, then Select Board member Andrew Steinberg noted the large number of college students in Amherst, and the town and university’s ongoing efforts to combat underage drinking and overconsumption, such as the Campus and Community Coalition to Reduce High-Risk Drinking.

“This is a matter of continuing concern,” Steinberg said.

Kristi Bodin, Annunziata’s attorney, told the board that he would be investing in a high tech scanning machine and training staff so that no issues with potentially serving underage patrons would happen.

Annunziata, who acknowledged that he didn’t have previous experience in a college town, said he would be vigilant with hiring security and getting the machines to ID patrons.

“I’ll be tough on that,” Annunziata said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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