State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

State Objects to Seven State College Bar Renewals

on February 16, 2011 8:53 AM

UPDATE @ 8:40 p.m. Friday: Penn State has responded to a StateCollege.com inquiry related to this news. We've posted the full text of the university's statement on this page.

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UPDATE @ 9:58 a.m. Thursday: StateCollege.com has posted a follow-up news report. It's posted here: "Police: For State College Bars, State Patty's Day Marked 'Turning Point.'"

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The Pennsylvania agency that oversees liquor licenses has objected to license renewals for seven State College bars, including six in the downtown, the state Liquor Control Board confirmed Tuesday.

Its Bureau of Licensing last month filed the objections against the Shandygaff, on the 200 block of East Calder Way; the Gingerbread Man, 130 Heister St.; 797 Sports Bar and Lounge, 244 W. College Ave.; the Lion's Den, 116-118 S. Garner St.; the Mezzanine, 420 E. College Ave.; the Ramada Inn, 1450 S. Atherton St.; and the Phyrst, 111 E. Beaver Ave.

It appears preliminarily that all the establishments are appealing the bureau's objections. But it remains unclear at this point how those appeal processes will play out -- and how, or if, all those licensees may continue to operate in the long term. For now, most of the affected bars are continuing to operate under state-issued "temporary authority," allowing them to do business while the legal process unfolds.

In notes supplied to StateCollege.com, the liquor control board -- or PLCB -- indicated that the licensing bureau's objections are based on the bars' respective citation histories. (The Bureau of Licensing is an arm of the PLCB.)

The 797 Sports Bar and Lounge, for instance, has seen "citations and 10 incidents of disturbances including but not limited to a stabbing, fights, loud music and disorderly operations," according to the PLCB.

And the Mezzanine, in the former home of the Cell Block, has seen "citations and 33 incidents of disturbances including but not limited to assaults, fights, disorderly patrons and employees and assault by employees," the PLCB notes read. Neither 797 nor the Mezzanine appears to be doing business right now.

But other affected bars appear to have more tame incident histories. The Phyrst, for example, has seen eight state citations in the past 12 years, according to PLCB records. The Ramada logged four from 1994 to 2009, the records show. And the Lion's Den had seven during the same time period, according to the state documents.

Those three establishments, plus the Shandygaff and the Gingerbread Man, are continuing to operate under temporary authority.

A number people employed by State College bars, reached Tuesday, did not want to be quoted by name, fearing a reaction from state authorities. But many bar operators have privately expressed bewilderment at the state's recent broad, unexpected actions.

In the past couple years, they said, they've seen dramatically increased and draconian enforcement patrols in State College from the state Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, the state police agency that monitors and cites licensees. Some undercover enforcement tactics lead to citations that arrive months after specific alleged incidents, making it difficult for operators to explain and defend themselves, some said.

Another point of contention: The state holds bar operators largely responsible when an underage drinker successfully fools bouncers and gains entry to an establishment. Some bar operators would like to see the responsibility attributed more evenly, along with more equitable monitoring of the state's own liquor-store sales, they've said.

A call to the regional office of the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement was not immediately returned Tuesday.

But PLCB spokeswoman Stacey Witalec did say that each bar appealing to retain its license could face one of several outcomes. If the PLCB, through the hearing process, agrees to let an establishment keep its license, the licensee might face state-imposed mandates, such as specialized staff training, she said.

At the same time, she said, a hearing process might not yield any leniency for an establishment to keep operating. If that's the case, a licensee could take its case to the Commonwealth Court level for an additional appeal, Witalec said. She emphasized that each case is treated separately and uniquely.

StateCollege.com is reaching out to bar operators and will continue to cover this emerging issue. The site welcomes tips and input from readers in the comment section at the bottom of this page, and more privately -- via e-mail -- at adam.smeltz@statecollege.com. Below is a detailed list of the bars involved and their respective circumstances.

  • Shandygaff; six state citations from 1999 to 2009, according to state records; operating under temporary authority; hearing to be scheduled.
  • Gingerbread Man; seven state citations from 2009 to 2010, according to state records; operating under temporary authority; hearing scheduled for late February.
  • 797 Sports Bar and Lounge; two state citations in 2010, according to state records; hearing not yet scheduled. A sale of this license is pending. The bar is not operating, per a licensee request for its license to be placed in safekeeping. The current listed manager, Ketan Patel, also has a DUI arrest on file, the PLCB noted.
  • Lion's Den; seven state citations from 1994 to 2009, according to state records; operating under temporary authority; hearing scheduled for early March.
  • Mezzanine; seven state citations since 2007, according to state records; hearing not yet scheduled. The state issued temporary authority to continue operations, but that authority was returned with a request that the license be placed in safekeeping, according to the PLCB. The bar's listed president is Patel.
  • Ramada Inn; four state citations from 1994 to 2009, according to state records; operating under temporary authority; hearing to be scheduled.
  • Phyrst; eight state citations from 1999 to 2009, according to state records; operating under temporary authority; hearing to be scheduled.
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