Lower East Side Nightlife Crackdown Leads to Spike in Underage Drinking Busts

super subway angstRachel Citron The 7th Precinct has been targeting bar owners for serving drinks to minors.

The police crackdown on bars in the Lower East Side resulted in a dramatic increase in charges of underage drinking against business owners, data provided by the State Liquor Authority shows.

During a three-month stretch of intense enforcement early this year, the S.L.A., which acts on recommendations from the police, handed down 39 charges of underage drinking in the neighborhood, compared to 31 charges issued during all of 2009 and 2010.

UnderageBoozing009_080211Lauren Carol Smith View full graphic

Bar owners in the three zip codes that, taken together, include the East Village and Lower East Side faced 230 charges of serving minors from 2007 to 2011, resulting in $1,034,800 in fines. The data shows that large numbers of charges come during intense periods of enforcement, and bars in the Lower East Side in particular have faced an unprecedented and disproportionate amount of scrutiny this year.

Each offense results in fines of up to $10,000, and repeat offenders risk being shut down permanently. Some of the more high-profile watering holes caught in the dragnet include Mason Dixon (which eventually closed altogether) and Welcome to the Johnson’s.

The increase in enforcement came as the 7th Precinct resurrected its cabaret unit, which focuses on the Lower East Side’s booming nightlife scene, as well as the arrival of Capt. David Miller at the precinct last year. An officer with Community Affairs in the 7th Precinct would not comment on enforcement of sale of alcohol to minors.

In 2009, the East Village’s 9th Precinct disbanded its own cabaret unit, though at a recent community meeting Deputy Inspector Kenneth Lehr said underage drinking remained a priority.

Many bar owners say that they are being unfairly punished for an issue beyond their control.

“If the police feel there is a pandemic of sales to minors and they see it going up, rather than closing businesses down, why don’t you call a meeting with owners and give them a warning?” said Paul Seres, a Lower East Side resident and president of the New York Nightlife Association. “It’s never been done, and that is my problem with the way the police have chosen to proceed. They’ve never done any outreach.”

Mr. Seres speculated that the increase in charges of sales to minors was the result of increased pressure on the police to rein in bad behavior on bustling streets like Ludlow and Clinton Streets.

“It’s all connected. The police start grasping at straws to figure out how to get a handle on the situation,” he said.

The State Liquor Authority provided The Local with a complete run down of all underage drinking charges in zip codes 10002, 10003 and 10009 between 2007 and the present. (Those zip codes also include parts of Chinatown and Gramercy. However, almost all of the violations occurred in the Lower East Side and East Village.) Other notable incidents in the data of sales include:

  • The troubled Luca Bar, which owed the state $31,385 in back taxes, was fined $4,000 by the SLA in July 2008.
  • Cosmic Cantina, which closed in June of last year, had its license revoked after it had already shut down. Notably, its sister location in Chapel Hill, NC also had its liquor license temporarily suspended in March this year.
  • Cheap Shots, which has since closed, was fined $2,500 on a November 2007 charge.
  • Neighborhood stalwart Odessa was hauled up on two charges in February 2008, resulting in $7,000 in fines.
  • Max Fish was charged in February this year, but its case is still awaiting review by the SLA. The bar was forcibly closed by the police in May.


You can view the source data here and can share interesting cases in the comments.