The taps will keep flowing at Sona Thirteen and the Dark Horse Lounge, which received liquor license renewals from the Morristown council at special hearings on Wednesday.
But conditions imposed on the bars amounted to a split decision for the Walsh family, owners of both establishments.
The council voted 5-1 to require the Dark Horse to hire an off-duty Morristown police officer or trained security guard to keep the peace on DeHart Street between midnight and closing time, 2 a.m., Thursdays through Saturdays.
A similar proposal for Sona Thirteen failed to gain traction.
The Walshes’ lawyer, Robert Williams, described the police requirement as “over-reaching” and said the Dark Horse would explore an appeal.
“We’re certainly going to review it. We did not consent to it,” Williams said, noting that Morristown police had not recommended more security.
Councilwoman Michelle Dupree Harris cast the lone dissenting vote, asserting it was unfair to impose extra security costs without first soliciting input from the police. Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid was absent.
ALLEGATIONS AND SETTLEMENTS
Sona Thirteen and the Dark Horse were the only liquor licenses not renewed by the council in June, because of alleged violations lodged by the state involving those establishments. Both obtained temporary licenses in the interim. The Creighton Mayes American Legion Post 312 was facing a license suspension by the state for faulty record-keeping.
Council President Rebecca Feldman proposed the off-duty cop for Sona Thirteen and the Dark Horse, citing precedents from years ago when she said such mandates were given to the now-defunct Jimmy’s Haunt, Argyle’s and the Funky Monkey to calm patrons as they exited.
The condition stuck for the Dark Horse but not Sona Thirteen because their charges differed, Feldman said after the council votes.
State investigators filed charges–still pending–against the Dark Horse alleging that two 20-year-olds were served in February. Another pending allegation from the same night contends someone from the public was served from an open bar at a private function, in violation of state regulations.
Underaged drinking also is alleged to have occurred last September at Sona Thirteen. But those charges were pressed against the five Staten Island youths accused of doing the drinking, not against Sona. Last summer, Sona Thirteen also paid a $10,292 fine to settle a state charge that it fobbed off cheap liquor as good stuff.
“IT GETS UGLY”
Several residents reiterated longstanding complaints about noise, rowdy behavior and public urination spilling into their neighborhoods from bustling downtown bars.
Williams, the lawyer, repeatedly characterized such complaints as off-point, emphasizing that no complaints about such incidents had been filed against his clients.
He further insisted it was unfair to burden the Dark Horse with policing DeHart Street, a public thoroughfare with a public parking deck serving patrons of all downtown bars.
When Feldman shared concerns about porous security gleaned from social media sites Yelp and Twitter, Williams sounded incredulous.
“You can’t go on Twitter and tell us we have to increase these kinds of costs! Let someone come forward” with complaints, the attorney said.
Councilman Michael Elms came forward.
“It’s well documented that the Dark Horse at closing time is a problem,” the councilman said. “You have crowds that congregate outside the door. The bouncers are not doing a good enough job to move them along and get them to their cars, get them out of town, to where they need to go.
“I’ve been outside the Dark Horse when fights have broken out. I’ve seen a glass bottle get smashed against a brick wall. There have been a lot of things that have happened outside the Dark Horse. People like to congregate, guys and girls are flirting with each other, groups of guys are pushing each other back and forth. It gets ugly. I’ve seen it. A lot of people have seen it… it’s a legitimate issue,” Elms said.
Feldman initially wanted an off-duty officer in place starting at 10 pm, Thursday-Saturday. Councilwoman Alison Deeb suggested pushing back the start time to midnight, and the amendment was adopted.
The council, which serves as the town’s alcoholic beverage control commission, gave Williams 45 days to implement the police hiring at the Dark Horse, per the lawyer’s request.
Both bars agreed to enroll all employees with door duties in a state-approved training course on how to detect underage drinkers. Additionally, the Dark Horse agreed to stop offering open bars at private functions.
Council members also expressed interest in training sessions, to stay abreast of liquor laws.
“I think we’re making progress,” Donna Gaffney, a resident critical of the bars, said after two hours of hearings.
Two of her neighbors sided with Sona Thirteen. Christine Conti-Collins and her husband, Dan, who live in the 40 Park luxury condos, said Sona’s back alley is cleaner and quieter than the nearby Iron Bar’s. They suggested the Iron Bar has enjoyed a smoother ride from authorities because of Mayor Tim Dougherty’s friendship with Iron Bar owner Jimmy Cavanaugh.
But Cavanaugh’s expansion plans ran into tough conditions from the council last month.
“Making downtown Morristown an inviting mixed-use area is a laudable goal,” said Rebecca Feldman, the council president. “It will require everyone with a liquor license to be a good neighbor.”