Amherst restaurant has liquor license revoked over ‘egregious’ violations

  • Porta’s takeout window is boarded up on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Porta, in Amherst, is shown Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Porta in Amherst on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Porta in Amherst on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Porta in Amherst on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 4/24/2019 5:54:08 PM

AMHERST — A downtown restaurant has lost its liquor license after the Board of License Commissioners determined that significant violations of state alcohol laws had occurred there.

At a hearing on Wednesday afternoon about Porta, 51 East Pleasant St., the five-member panel voted unanimously to revoke the restaurant’s license following testimony from four police officers of repeated violations, which continued to occur even after Porta’s license was suspended for three days earlier this month.

“There’s been no demonstration since our last hearing that management has tried to make any improvements,” said Commissioner Hallie Hughes. “In fact, they seem to have disregarded everything.”

“This is an unusual and really grave situation,” said Commissioner Robert Paul Musgrave, adding that he worries about the situation described by officers, including an uncontrolled environment in which customers were able to serve themselves, overconsumption of alcohol by patrons with no staff supervising them, and the lack of an ID scanner.

Police Chief Scott Livingstone said what patrol officers uncovered during checks over the past week, some of which were in response to complaints, is as disturbing as anything he has seen in his tenure.

“Frankly, in my 40 years of law enforcement, and more than nine years as a chief, I’ve never witnessed such egregious violations in a licensed establishment,” Livingstone said.

Livingstone said there has been a complete disregard by Porta owner Rich Annunziata for state laws and local regulations, as well as restrictions imposed through licensing and zoning.

Annunziata was not present for the hearing, sending an email to the commission 90 minutes before its meeting stating he objected to the proceedings.

“I will not participate unless I’m allowed due process,” Annunziata wrote, arguing that 47 hours was insufficient time to prepare a response.

He can appeal to the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, though the license would remain revoked, according to the town’s licensing coordinator, Steven McCarthy.

Late Wednesday, Annunziata sent a brief response to an email from the Gazette seeking comment about the future of the business, which opened over the winter at the former site of Bertucci’s.

“When people say Amherst plays by their own rules and is the hardest town to do business in the state now I know why,” Annunziata said.

Though Porta can continue to operate as a restaurant serving Italian cuisine and pizza, Livingstone said he would prefer to see the business cease operations.

“My personal opinion is this owner doesn’t deserve to have a business in this town, the privilege of running a business in this town,” Livingstone said. “I have no confidence in his ability to do business in this town.”

Before revoking the license, the commission found Porta had violated a series of laws, including serving alcohol after closing time, serving alcohol to minors, providing free alcohol to customers, providing alcohol for free to customers with the purchase of food, failing to check IDs, not having a scanner to check IDs, having intoxicated staff on duty, having no staff on duty and at times not having food available for customers.

‘A free-for-all’

Patrol officers Matthew Frydryk and Justin Satkowski were two of the four officers who provided testimony.

Frydryk, who was in the bar as a plainclothes officer on Saturday night, described a scene where an intoxicated patron had taken over the bartending duties for the night.

“Essentially, it was a free-for-all. It was a self-serve establishment at that time,” Frydryk said.

He observed three underage females at the bar who had used University of Massachusetts IDs to get inside. “They said that’s all they needed to get into the bar,” Frydryk said.

Frydryk was also present Friday around 1:30 a.m. after the department received anonymous calls reporting underage drinking and that some female patrons said they were being “asked to show various body parts to get in.”

Satkowski, also in plain clothes on Saturday, saw a female bartender consuming alcohol herself at times and saw another patron acting as a bartender, and then going to a table and consuming alcohol. That patron was joined by his younger brother, who was just 16, and both appeared to have bloodshot eyes and were under the influence of alcohol.

In addition, Satkowski said he saw another man go behind the bar, where he picked out a bottle of whiskey and “chugged” it. He also grabbed two bottles of beer that a customer left with.

“It was strange that people were jumping in and out of serving drinks,” Satkowski said.

Officer Benton Carr had been inside Porta earlier in the week, when he noticed there was no scanner, with an employee just using a cellphone to scan IDs for people 18 and over, and that no pizza was being served from the kitchen.

Carr also observed a patron go behind the bar and described a scene where there was no way to tell who was staff and who was a patron.

Revoking licenses is not common in Amherst, and before the new town charter was adopted last year, that duty was for many years the responsibility of the Select Board.

According to Gazette files, the last liquor license revocation for violations of liquor laws was at Mike’s Westview Café, a former bar on Sunderland Road, though that decision was handed down by the ABCC after underage drinkers were served in 2000. The bar closed a short time later.

Commissioner Marian Walker said she doesn’t feel that Porta is operating as a legitimate business.

Chairman Douglas Slaughter said the commission wanted to be conscious of the message the revocation sends and that the public understands there is a public safety matter here.

“There’s a flouting of rules,” Slaughter said. “That’s very, very troubling.”

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


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2019 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy