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After violent incidents, Schenectady’s Union Inn faces possible loss of liquor license

After violent incidents, Schenectady’s Union Inn faces possible loss of liquor license

Liquor license at stake for downtown venue
After violent incidents, Schenectady’s Union Inn faces possible loss of liquor license
The Union Inn at 517 Union St. in Schenectady is pictured on Wednesday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY — Barely two years after reopening the Union Inn could lose its liquor license. 

The downtown bar has been cited with numerous violations by state authorities following a streak of violent incidents, including two early-morning slashings this fall. 

The state Liquor Authority cited Union Inn on Monday with 10 violations, nine of them for staying open past the hours designated by their liquor license. 

The other violation is for becoming a “focal point for police attention.” 

The violation is based on referrals from the Schenectady Police Department not only for the slashing in September and another last month that left a woman with facial and neck wounds, but also two assaults and two fights, including one directly outside the 517 Union St. location earlier this month. 

Union Inn has until Dec. 18 to respond to the violations.

At stake is the venue’s liquor license.

Owner Phil Ruggiero did not respond for comment for this story.

City police have responded to over 100 calls at Union Inn this year, including property checks and enhanced patrols the department refers to as “extra attention.”

Since the venue reopened last year under new ownership -- the inn was closed for four years-- neighborhood business owners have also complained about the late-night crowd causing property damage.

Union Inn was licensed under a different operator from 2005 to 2014, who cited flood damage for its closure.

But the state agency said the venue's liquor license was also canceled “due to numerous violations that led to the premises becoming a focal point for the police department.”

State authorities granted Ruggiero a license in 2017, but barred elements that would contribute to a nightclub-type atmosphere, including DJs, live music and dancing.

“Our main concern is that the premises will actually be a nightclub and the past issues that plagued these premises will continue with this applicant,” wrote state Liquor Authority Secretary Thomas J. Donohue in the formal decision.

Ruggiero, who also owns Nico’s Pizzeria, contended the venue would serve more as a restaurant and that he would split his time between the two locations, an on-site presence that would ideally quash potential issues that surfaced under its previous owner. 

“It’s primarily a restaurant with a small entertainment space on the patio,” said Shawn May, Ruggiero’s attorney, at the 2017 hearing. 

Since its relaunch, Union Inn had developed a reputation as an afterhours venue that was often open past 1 a.m. on weekends, a violation of its licensing agreement.

The bar had agreed to close at midnight from Sunday to Thursdays and 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The venue is not accused of violating the ban on live music, DJs and dancing. 

The state authority launched its investigation after the October slashing, which Ruggiero contended was an isolated domestic incident. The other, he said, happened on nearby Barrett Street. 

If Ruggiero responds “not guilty” to the charges, the state authority will schedule a hearing before an administrative law judge. Afterward, the judge will issue an opinion and the matter will be scheduled for a full board meeting to weigh potential penalties.

If he pleads “no contest,” the matter will go directly to the board for possible penalty. 

Ruggiero can also seek a negotiated offer with the prosecutor, which would also go before the full board.

Union Inn also faces disciplinary action from the city, which declared the venue a “public nuisance” on Oct. 17.

The city restricted its hours and ordered the venue to meet security requirements set by the city Police Department. 

“If they abate the nuisances, we can meet with them and get rid of the restrictions,” said city Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico. “If not, we can have a formal hearing in front of a hearing officer and measures can be put in place.”

Ruggiero previously said Union Inn employs four security guards equipped with ID scanners.

City police Sgt. Matthew Dearing said the department has met with Ruggiero several times and he has been receptive. 

“He's open to suggestions working with us on a few things,” Dearing said. 

Bar and restaurant liquor licenses must be renewed every two years. The Union Inn’s license was issued on Feb. 26, 2018 and expires on Jan. 31, 2020.

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