WATERTOWN — The State Liquor Authority outlined Thursday why it suspended the liquor license of the Hitchin’ Post Tavern on Wednesday night after the authority allegedly found the bar violated the state’s coronavirus social distancing regulations.
SLA investigators closed down the Court Street tavern on Wednesday night and confiscated its license after a video surface last month of patrons packing the bar with few wearing masks.
On Wednesday night, owner Cliff Pickett said he suffered a stroke a few weeks ago and was receiving medical attention when he got word that the SLA was investigating his bar, so he left against doctor’s orders to try to do something about the situation.
He claimed bartenders he put in charge while he was recuperating didn’t follow his instructions to make sure state COVID-19 regulations were followed. The employees have since been fired.
The license was suspended to protect public health and safety, saying that supervision in the bar “was nonexistent,” according to the liquor authority.
“The SLA ordered an emergency suspension for the Hitchin Post Tavern following reports from the Watertown Police depicting a bar where face masks were optional and patrons were packed so close together that social distancing was impossible.”
The Watertown Police Department investigated the situation on Sept. 27 in response to complaints about a large gathering of people in the bar. State social distancing regulations were not followed, according to a local official.
More than 70 patrons were inside the bar, or double the maximum allowed. A large number of patrons also were outside on a deck, standing shoulder to shoulder.
“We are still fighting a global pandemic, and the SLA will continue to hold those who put their employees, patrons and communities at risk accountable for their actions,” according to the liquor authority statement.
Emergency Summary Suspensions are imposed when the SLA finds the continued operation of a licensed business threatens public health and safety, according to the statement.
Suspension orders are served immediately and remain in effect indefinitely.
The owner of the Hitchin’ Post is entitled to a prompt hearing before an SLA administrative law judge. The bar can also enter a “no contest” plea, which typically results in paying a fine, as long as the owner does not challenge the liquor authority’s charges.
The SLA board could accept, reject or make a counteroffer. If ordered to pay a fee, the Hitchin’ Post’s license would be reinstated.