The Sag Harbor Village Board and Arlene Furer, owner of the Cigar Bar on Main Street, bumped heads on Tuesday evening when, despite a major code violation and cases pending with the State Liquor Authority, Ms. Furor asked to have her liquor license renewed.
Mayor Gregory Ferraris said the Cigar Bar opened as a retail shop with an accessory drinking use, but it has since had its large walk-in humidor removed, completely stripping the retail component of the operation to create a full-scale bar without approval. The mayor also said that the bar attracts a bad element, and fights, violence and theft have become a regular occurrence there.
The Cigar Bar has been open for 12 years. Its liquor license expired on Tuesday, April 29.
At the board meeting on Tuesday, Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Thomas Fabiano scolded Ms. Furer, noting that he had suggested ways for her to clean up her business and get back in the village’s good graces.
“I must have been talking to a wall, because nothing changed,” he said, pointing out that the SLA is investigating an April 20 robbery/assault at the bar, during which an intoxicated patron reportedly was attacked by three suspected gang members in red clothing. The alleged gang members cut the victim several times on the face and stole his girlfriend’s purse, according to the police report.
“I’m not going to let it go on,” Chief Fabiano said of the violence. “It’s a nuisance establishment, according to me and according to the Liquor Authority.”
In an April 30 letter to the board, the police chief asked that the Cigar Bar’s liquor license not be renewed until the Village Police and SLA conduct a full review of the issues. He noted that since 2005, there have been approximately 17 reported fights, reports of unwanted patrons and numerous reports of theft at the bar.
Since May 2007, the Village Police logs clearly show five fights or assaults, four thefts, at least one unruly patron and a woman who was followed from the bar and grabbed, forcing her to seek shelter at police headquarters. At 2:40 a.m. on June 24, a man was arrested for punching a female acquaintance in the face and extinguishing a cigarette on her forehead. On February 10, police said a group of men were brawling outside the bar, then fled, leaving behind several bags of marijuana. One of the men later reported getting 25 stitches in his face, but he would not press charges or share details about the fight.
Ms. Furer’s case is going before the SLA on May 22 in New York City and she said the bar is making a concerted effort to change. “We’re getting a bad group of people in there,” Ms. Furer acknowledged, noting that removing them is difficult.
Trustee Ed Deyermond seemed to see things a little differently.
“You’re missing the point here,” he said, explaining that above all else, the issue is that the Cigar Bar is coded as a retail establishment with accessory drinking. “Is there any retail in there?” Mr. Deyermond asked.
Mayor Ferraris and Trustee Tiffany Scarlato agreed, and Ms. Furer explained that because her tobacco revenues reached a certain percentage in the past, the bar was able to allow smoking inside after the public smoking ban, but she didn’t sell enough tobacco to maintain the exception, and cigar sales declined.
She was fined $1,000 in 2006 for allowing smoking in the bar, and the activity was banned shortly thereafter. To make more space for full occupancy, 28 patrons, Ms. Furer removed the business’s large walk-in humidor. Today, the Cigar Bar does not have cigars on display nor any actual retail use.
Mr. Deyermond also complained that illegal and disruptive activities at the Cigar Bar, including overcrowding and theft, cost the village in police overtime. “Right now, I think this thing is dead in the water,” he said, clearly unwilling to vote in favor of renewing the liquor license.
Tracy Graham, a bartender at the Cigar Bar for seven years, listed some steps Ms. Furer is taking to remove the “terrible element” from the bar. Ms. Graham told the board the bar has never had a problem with underage drinking, but it now has licensed and bonded security guards to work the door.
The guards help maintain proper occupancy, check IDs and enforce the new dress code—no hats, “do-rags,” baggy pants or jackets.
The dress code and other changes were put in place after the April 20 assault as a way to halt any unwanted or criminal activities and attract a more mature crowd, Ms. Graham said. All drinks have increased slightly in price and mixed cocktails are now served in nothing bigger than an 8-ounce glass. Hip-hop music is banned from the premises, as are all suspected drug dealers and gang members, Ms. Graham said. She also noted that the dark corners of the bar are more brightly lit to discourage shadowy dealings on premises.
“We just want to develop a more harmonious relationship with the police department and the village,” Ms. Graham added. “We’re just looking for a way to prove it to you” and get back to work after a couple weeks of unemployment, she said.
Mayor Ferraris said that the use is still a problem and nothing could be done with the renewal until after Ms. Furer’s case goes before the State Liquor Authority. He also noted that the bar has put lettering on its front window advertising its website without approval by the village.