Park Street Cantina Calls City Liquor License Objection a “Witch Hunt”
On Monday, December 4, Columbus City Council voted to object to the renewal of eight local liquor licenses in Columbus. This annual review process is a common step taken toward shuttering businesses where illegal activity is frequent and problematic.
“People who hold liquor permits hold them not as a right, but at the pleasure of the State and they have to conduct their businesses accordingly,” stated Columbus City Attorney Rick Pfeiffer during the December 4 council meeting.
One of the eight businesses this year includes popular Downtown bar and nightclub, Park Street Cantina. The City Attorney’s office reported that 51 incidents have been recorded at Cantina in 2016 and 2017, which are primarily focused on underage alcohol consumption.
“The Ohio Department of Public Safety has more arrests and liquor citations at Cantina than any other bar in Columbus,” stated Senior Assistant City Attorney William Sperlazza. “On at least six occasions, the State of Ohio has found minor individuals under the age of 18 at the Cantina Bar in possession of alcohol.”
The owners of Park Street Cantina are fighting back against the accusations.
“Law enforcement has used trickery with regard to their efforts to have confidential informants make these purchases,” stated Jim Andrioff, legal counsel for Park Street Cantina. “The legislature has also provided by statute, that if trickery has been used that it should be considered as a mitigating factor. Confidential informants used by the city look like they are 30-plus years old. Balding with beards, sneaking into private events behind roped off entrances.”
“Confidential informants are not allowed to utilize any identification other than their own valid state identification,” said Sperlazza. “If any of the confidential informants used in this investigation, or any other investigation, were required to provide ID by the bartenders in question, the bartenders would have known the individual they were dealing with was under the age of 21.”
Sperlazza also explained that the law enforcement’s use of confidential informants with older appearances is intentional as they are specifically conducting compliance checks with liquor permit holders to make sure that laws are being followed with regard to checking IDs.
“If law enforcement used confidential informants who appeared as pre-pubescent adolescents, this would not be an effective means of checking for compliance,” he stated. “Although in the case of the Cantina Bar, I’m not sure it would have mattered.”
Andrioff also made the case that because of the large size and popularity of Cantina, it’s more likely to have a higher number of citations by volume.
“This witch hunt has more to do with development, similar to what happened on campus decades ago when the city systematically got rid of the bars on south campus to make way for the failed Gateway project,” said Andrioff. “There are a lot of bars in Columbus where numerous shootings have occurred yet they did not make this “worst of the worst” list as the city professes. Safety should be of the utmost concern, not playing a game of “gotcha.””
While the City of Columbus and Columbus Division of Police play a role in the enforcement of laws surrounding liquor permit holders, Sperlazza pointed out that almost all of the investigations at Cantina were conducted by the State of Ohio.
“Unfortunately, these are the types of false and outlandish statements that our country has become too familiar with,” added Sperlazza. “The State brought this establishment to our attention in July of this year. To my knowledge, Columbus City Council became aware of this State investigation no earlier than November 28th of this year.”
Park Street Cantina is operated by Fadi Michael and Sam Michael of Michael Brothers Entertainment Group, who also operate other Columbus bars including Julep, Formaggio and Granero Lounge.
While the vote by City Council has already occurred, all eight businesses that received objections can continue to hold their liquor permits until a hearing officer with the Ohio Division of Liquor Control rules on the cases sometime in early 2018. According to Sperlazza, the state has ruled in favor of the city’s objections 66 out of 78 times since 2012, which he refers to as an “85 percent success rate.”
Stay tuned to CU for more updates as this story develops.