Police were called to seven bars more than 1,000 times in the past two years before officers finally managed to shut them down.
A new initiative against “problem bars” has successfully closed six of the seven, and the seventh — Orchids — is facing a hearing in which its liquor license may be revoked, Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said.
“One-thousand-plus police calls. Absolutely incredible,” he said. “Nothing else came anywhere close.”
Police say two bars were responsible for half of the calls: Ray’s Bar on Congress Street and Club Illusion off Erie Boulevard.
Last summer, police saw increased violence connected to the bars, so Mayor Gary McCarthy sent the owners letters asking them to discuss the matter at City Hall. Three owners showed up, but they didn’t all want to change, the city says.
Club Illusion owner Amar-nauth Armogan vehemently defended his bar, saying nothing untoward had happened there. But Bennett said police were called 280 times between January 2011 and January 2013. A customer was stabbed once, and there were reports of shots fired on another occasion, Bennett said.
Armogan said it was all a lie.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “There was no stabbing.”
One of the fighters was scraped by one of his cast-iron tables, he said. He’s sure it wasn’t a knife because all customers walk through a metal detector at his entrance, he said.
As for the shots-fired report, he said balloons popped during a birthday party. But he acknowledged he called police and “everybody started running” at the sound.
He paid a $1,000 fine to the state Liquor Authority and took a 15-day liquor license suspension in hopes of avoiding closure. But in January, his license was revoked.
He is fighting the allegations at an SLA hearing. In the meantime, he’s lost his house in New York City to foreclosure, and the club is now $70,000 behind on taxes. The city has started foreclosure proceedings, Bennett said.
The mayor got a different response from the owners of Doug’s Tailgate Tavern on State Street.
“They said they were having difficulty controlling the crowd,” Bennett said. “They thought it was the type of music they were playing. They switched to a sports-bar format and said they would close if they could not [control the crowd]. Indeed, they did surrender their license and close.”
The tavern initially settled some of its SLA violations with a $3,000 fine, but after additional violations, the liquor license was surrendered March 27.
Bennett said police responded to 134 calls at the tavern before it closed, including assaults and fights.
Four other bars were also closed after police asked the SLA to inspect them regularly because of the high number of police calls.
Ray’s Bar on Congress Street was closed this year after police were called 281 times between January 2011 and Sept. 4, 2013, police say. There were gunshots fired, assaults and stabbings there, Bennett said.
Three bars were closed last year.
Police also investigated the Mason’s Club on Schenectady Street, where George Lloyd was killed Oct. 27, 2012. Police were called there 110 times from January 2011 to October 2012, Bennett said.
The SLA has no jurisdiction over private clubs, but after the killing, police said they learned the manager did not have a certificate of use from the city to operate the club. Manager Yara Tirado was arrested on that charge. The owner moved to Florida in June, and the city has started foreclosure proceedings, Bennett added.
The owners of Joe’s Bar on Fifth Avenue surrendered their license Oct. 4, 2012, after inspections found numerous violations.
Bennett said police were called there repeatedly for large fights. Rashad Robinson was killed outside the bar in 2011.
Police also took quick action at Club 11 on North Broadway, which was open for just six weeks in 2012. Police were called there 33 times. On Nov. 25, they responded to what Bennett called a “massive bar fight involving over 100 people.”
Two customers were stabbed and five people were arrested during the melee, he said.
Police reported the problem to the SLA, and because the bar had a temporary liquor license, the agency was able to immediately cancel the processing of the permanent license. The bar closed Nov. 27, Bennett said.
Police are still focusing on one more bar. They have been called to Orchids on State Street 163 times since June 2012, Bennett said. On several occasions, police had to call for mutual aid to handle large fights.
Orchids owner Rose Coleman said she rented out the Jamaican restaurant for private parties because she needed more income to pay for the large building. She moved to Schenectady from a small takeout location in Rotterdam, hoping to make a living running a full-scale restaurant.
“The next thing you know, they’re fighting in the parking lot,” she said.
She has stopped renting the facility, but her last party was in July — months after police told her they were troubled by the problems there.
Her attorney has told her he may be able to negotiate a $7,500 fine, but Bennett said he thinks the business will eventually be closed because she has 10 violations to settle with the SLA.
She’s hoping to keep her liquor license, which she said is important to the business.
“I’m trying to keep the place, trying to keep my sanity,” she said. “Ever since I was a little girl, this is what I wanted to do. I worked three jobs to get this. I rented to the wrong people.”
Bennett acknowledged she has tried to resolve the problems.
“She has changed the way they operated over there,” he said.