The Revolution beer hall can continue to ignore curfews imposed by Morristown’s council, and the state should order the town to rescind them as arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and discriminatory, a judge has ruled.
Town officials said they will appeal the decision by Administrative Law Judge John P. Scollo.
Owner Jimmy Cavanaugh chafed at early closing times imposed on Revolution by the town council in 2016, as conditions for approving his expansion of the liquor license from his adjoining Iron Bar.
While other establishments in town can operate until 2 am, Revolution was required to close at 11 pm Sundays through Thursdays, and at 11:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Council members were responding to complaints from residents about unruly behavior by patrons of downtown bars.
But of six bars on the same block, only Revolution had such restrictions–making them discriminatory, Scollo said in a written decision last month. The state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control never approved the curfews, and the ABC should order their elimination, the judge advised.
Revolution has been operating until 2 am, after obtaining a stay of the conditions from the state.
“Michelle Harris was the only one with any sense,” said Cavanaugh, referring to former Councilwoman Michelle Duprée Harris, the sole council member to oppose the curfews.
The town will appeal to the state ABC commissioner because Scollo is not the same administrative judge who heard the case in April 2017. That judge, Joan Bedrin-Murray, was appointed in December to state tax court. Scollo inherited the case and based his opinion on a transcript, said town Attorney Vij Pawar.
“There were a lot of facts the judge failed to consider,” Pawar said of Scollo.
Cavanaugh’s lawyer, Robert C. Williams, called several witnesses at last spring’s hearing.
Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz testified that he knew of no reason for the curfews, and Fire Chief Robert Flanagan said no fire code violations had occurred at Iron Bar or Revolution.
Nor were there any ABC violations at Revolution or the Iron Bar, according to Cavanaugh, who told the court that the restricted hours would harm his business and its employees.
Bedrin-Murray also heard from then-Council President Stefan Armington, then-Councilwoman Harris,former Councilwoman Rebecca Feldman, and several residents.
Scollo said Armington “offered no facts” to warrant Revolution’s early closing.
“I disagree with this ruling,” Armington said. “They didn’t take into consideration the effect of multiple establishments with a single license, which we’ve had a problem with. That’s the primary issue here.”
While public comments are important, the judge said the council gave them too much weight when no police records link any problems to Revolution.
Residents’ testimony “did not constitute widespread public sentiment in opposition to the Iron Bar expansion and I find that it was too attenuated to establish that Iron Bar’s expansion was a realistic danger to the public health, safety, morals, or general welfare of Morristown,” Scollo wrote.
Opposition from 14 residents in a town of nearly 19,000 doesn’t trump a license-holder’s interests, the judge continued. Supervised by private security people and police, patrons were “well behaved” exiting Iron Bar and Revolution, Scollo found.
“We feel otherwise,” said Councilman Robert Iannaccone, whose First Ward includes Revolution and Iron Bar.
A few months ago, he said, the council changed parking designations to make space for emergency vehicles in front of the Iron Bar. Noise complaints are numerous, he said. And late-night Uber and taxi pickups have been moved from this stretch of South Street, which grows congested at closing time.
“Obviously, the town feels there are disruptions,” Iannaccone said.
Cavanaugh said he is appealing a separate council decision last year that denied his request to expand the Iron Bar liquor license a second time, for a Mexican restaurant to be called the Gran Cantina. And he said he is continuing his lawsuit against the Morristown Parking Authority in a dispute over access to an alley behind his bars.