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Greenfield bar goes 4 years without license for entertainment

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Taylors Tavern Sports Bar on Main St n Greenfield.
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Taylors Tavern Sports Bar on Main St n Greenfield.

GREENFIELD — A local bar owner says he has gone to the state ethics commission and attorney general because, he claims, the town has treated his wife’s bar differently than it has others in town, especially her “direct competition.”

Arthur Johnson, whose wife Maureen Johnson owns and runs the Drop Zone on Fiske Avenue, said Taylor’s Tavern has had a disc jockey on Thursday nights for some time — despite the fact that the bar does not have an entertainment license.

“That’s thousands of dollars we’re losing because they are operating illegally,” said Johnson. “My customers are heading there for entertainment.”

But William B. Allen, chairman of the Board of License Commissioners, and Mark Donoghue, owner of Taylor’s, said the bar is not operating illegally, because the licensing board intended to give Donoghue an entertainment license four years ago.

“I went before the board then, and the members voted to give me the license, pending an inspection by the town’s building inspector,” said Donoghue.

“When I left the meeting that night, I fully expected to see an inspector a day or two later.”

However, Donoghue said an inspector never came and after a few days, he forgot about it. He said he did not understand at that time that he was supposed to call the inspector and schedule an inspection.

“I just assumed they were eventually going to send one,” said Donoghue. “I didn’t have intentions of having a lot of entertainment here anyway — just an occasional birthday party or a disc jockey now and then, so it easily slipped my mind.”

Allen said he believes the board forwarded the paperwork to town inspectors four years ago, but they must have never received it.

“Mark thought we were setting up the inspection and we thought he was,” said Allen. “It simply slipped through the cracks — it’s as simple as that and we are going to rectify the situation.”

So, when Johnson reported to police that Donoghue had a disc jockey upstairs in Taylor’s sports bar on the night of Oct. 25, the licensing office, at Allen’s request, issued Donoghue a temporary entertainment license the following day.

Greenfield Police Lt. Todd Dodge said police are the eyes and ears of the licensing board and report problems they encounter, but don’t do anything at the time unless it is something like underage drinking they find.

“If something dangerous or illegal was going on, we’d take care of it on the spot,” said Dodge. “This particular incident will be a report to the commission and the commission will have to decide what to do.”

Allen said Donoghue will have to go before the commission on Nov. 13 to ask for a permanent entertainment license.

“I don’t think it will be too much of a problem, so he will probably have his license then and we’ll all make sure the inspection gets done this time,” Allen said.

Allen said he’d be more concerned if Mark Snow, the town’s building inspector, hadn’t been in Taylor’s over the past four years doing inspections connected with the bar’s liquor license.

“He does an inspection every year,” said Allen.

Snow said he doesn’t remember ever receiving a request to do an inspection for an entertainment license for Taylor’s, but said he has done several inspections for other things since then. He said it is the responsibility of the bar owner to set it up when an entertainment license is involved.

“It never got to me back then,” he said.

Snow said the difference between an inspection for a liquor license and an entertainment license has to do with what is expected of a bar versus a nightclub.

“We look closely at the sprinkler system, the fire alarm-protection systems, the means of egress, and occupancy when we’re looking at entertainment,” said Snow, who said Donoghue has already contacted him and is working with the town’s inspection department to make sure the bar is in compliance before he goes before the licensing board.

Snow said, for instance, that doors must be six feet wide when a bar has an entertainment license. He said rules are much stronger since the deadly fire in a Rhode Island nightclub in 2003.

“Mark (Donoghue) is willing to work with us,” said Snow.

But Johnson contends that his wife and her bar have been treated unfairly by the town and he wants something done about that — he said he plans to ask for some of the board members’ resignations on Nov. 13.

“Not only does the fact that Taylor’s hasn’t had an entertainment license affected my wife’s business, but Taylor’s has been doing this for years and everyone, including the board, has turned the other way,” he said. “I’ve called the police several times and it wasn’t until last week that a sergeant said he would report it to the licensing board.”

Johnson contends there are other bars in town that have had entertainment without the proper license, but says he doesn’t want to name them, since they aren’t as big a competition as Taylor’s is for his wife’s bar.

Lori Krikorian, the town’s licensing coordinator, was asked by The Recorder on Monday for a list of the town’s bars that includes which ones have an entertainment license, but said she could not get that information to the newspaper early enough for it to be added to this story because of this week’s storm.

Donoghue said it has not been “many years,” as Johnson claims, that he has had entertainment at the bar.

Johnson’s wife took back the Fiske Avenue bar and renamed it Drop Zone, as it was named years ago when Johnson owned it previously, when the man who was recently managing it as “Easy Street” was charged with selling cocaine there.

Johnson said because of that and other incidents, many of which have happened in the nearby parking lot, the bar has gotten a “bad rap” and continues to do so.

“Someone fights in the municipal parking lot above us and the bar’s name is in the police logs,” he said. “Sometimes none of the people involved have even stepped foot in our bar that night.”

Johnson said his wife has a “zero tolerance” policy.

“If someone does something we don’t like, they’re out,” he said. “If it is serious enough, they are out for good.”

Johnson said his wife will also go before the licensing board on Nov. 13 to ask that her bar be allowed to stay open until 2 a.m. — bars in Greenfield are allowed to stay open until 1 a.m.

“We’ll see what happens then,” said Johnson. “This board has not been doing what it is supposed to do. It hasn’t been fair.”

Johnson said Ivan Tristan, who owned Easy Street bar when he was arrested and charged with selling cocaine, was “slapped on the wrist by the board when it found out.”

“They suspended the bar’s license for 10 days and only three days had to be served,” said Johnson.

The Recorder reported at the time that, not only did the commission suspend the license, but Tristan was not allowed back into the bar — his business partner had to take over.

“Look, we’re busy and another bar might not be,” said Donoghue. “I don’t think it is because we have an occasional DJ.”

Donoghue said he has installed state-of-the-art alarm and sprinkler systems in the restaurant and bar over the past several years and Snow has seen them and signed off on each during his yearly inspections.

“When the Rhode Island fire happened, rules changed and became much stronger,” said Donoghue. “We’re following all those rules.”

Donoghue said Taylor’s has been in existence for 30 years and has not had problems with the town or the law.

“We’ll correct this problem as soon as we can,” said Donoghue.

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