Commission bans Porta’s alcohol sales for three days 

  • Porta, at 51 East Pleasant St., in Amherst, lost its liquor license for three days this week. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Friday, April 12, 2019

AMHERST — A new downtown restaurant has been prohibited from serving alcohol this past Tuesday through Thursday as a result of a series of violations uncovered by Amherst Police in late March.

The Board of License Commissioners on last Friday voted 4-0 to suspend the liquor license for Porta at 51 East Pleasant St. following a hearing into alleged infractions under both Massachusetts general law and the state’s code of regulations.

“We’re not saying you can’t open at all, we’re saying you can’t serve alcohol,” Chairman Douglas Slaughter said at the public hearing. 

Porta owner Richard Annunziata said he would accept the ruling by the panel and would not appeal to the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

As detailed by Amherst Police Lt. Brian Johnson, the violations officers observed at Porta on March 29 and March 30 included selling or allowing alcohol to be consumed after the 11:30 p.m. mandatory closing time under its class 1 permit, failing to effectively check IDs at the door, failing to have food available when alcohol is being served, serving alcohol to minors, selling a pitcher of alcohol to fewer than two people and permitting a “disorder, disturbance or illegality” on the site.

Johnson said police officer Molly Farber, working a plainclothes detail and joined by a student intern, was instructed to enter Porta on March 29 at 10:30 p.m. Both women had their IDs checked, but not scanned electronically, Johnson said.

In addition, after ordering non-alcoholic beverages, they were told by staff that pizza and other food would not be available until midnight. “In essence, they were not allowed to order any food while they were there,” Johnson said.

Farber told the commission that her other role was to make observations until just before midnight.

“Out of the mass of people who came through the door, I didn’t observe them using the electronic ID check at any time,” Farber said.

Farber also noticed one person consuming a pitcher of beer by himself, standing with a group of friends and not sharing it with them.

Johnson, joined by police officer Lindsay Carroll and Sgt. Todd Lang, arrived at Porta at 12:10 a.m. on March 30. They heard loud music playing, saw patrons still entering and a bartender continuing to make drinks. The only light inside came from six television screens. Johnson said at least 100 people were in the restaurant. One was arrested upon exiting for having an open container of alcohol and being a minor in possession of alcohol.

Johnson said he spoke to Annunziata, who contended that he had a class 2 license and could serve drinks until 1 a.m. and food until 2 a.m.

Annunziata told the commission that, aside from problems with the electronic ID scanner, the issues with Porta are a dispute over when it is required to close.

“I believe Porta has acted responsibly, and our security has done a great job,” Annunziata said.

Ken Heim, Porta’s head of security, said the restaurant was having problems with the scanning system and that he was advised by the owner that it could remain open until 2 a.m.

“The whole thing came as a big surprise to me,” Heim said of the police action to shut down Porta.

Annunziata said all inspections have been completed and conditions of the special permit met. “Everyone signed off on the permits,” he said. “I met all requirements for it.”

He said Building Commissioner Rob Morra is discriminating against his business by the denying him a class 2 certificate of occupancy.

“I believe this is a personal issue,” Annunziata said, adding that Morra is making his own interpretation of what the Zoning Board put into its conditions in issuing the special permit, and that Morra may be acting to support another business.

“You don’t send police officers to shut a place down,” Annunziata said.

But Morra said the process for Porta obtaining a class 2 certificate of occupancy is straightforward. A memo sent to the owner this week states that once issues surrounding the electronic ID scanner are resolved, an occupancy limit of 170 can be assured and staff is properly trained in both crowd control and alcohol service, the class 2 certificate of occupancy will be issued.

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