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Restaurant wants its booze back; says the whiskey, vodka and tequila police seized not really hard stuff

Boston Police, who seized 61 bottles of aguardiente, vodka, tequila and whiskey from Cafe Meridian on Meridian Street should give the booze back, because it's not really hard liquor of the sort the cafe isn't allowed to sell but the softer cordials it is, the restaurant's lawyer argued today.

At a hearing today, Michael Ford attempted to convince a clearly skeptical Licensing Board Chairwoman Nicole Murati Ferrer and member Suzanne Ianella that tequila isn't really tequila if it's mixed with cream and that infusing vodka with ginger or anise transforms it into a liqueur.

Ford said owner Edgard Auspina takes his liquor license seriously and that he would never sell something he wasn't allowed to - and that liqueurs are an essential part of the Latin American cuisine he serves.

Police arrived at the cafe shortly before 10 p.m. on April 20 when two groups of men got into a chair-throwing brawl over the outcome of a soccer match they were watching on TV. When the law showed up, the groups decided discretion was the better part of valor and fled. Once there, police conducted a "licensed premises inspection" and found people boozing it up without being served food - which also violates the restaurant's license - along with "numerous bottles" of what police said were "hard liquor," including Southern Comfort. The cafe has a license to serve beer, wine and liqueurs and only with food, not alone.

Ford produced ads from a liquor-wholesaler trade publication listing the specific types of alcohol Cafe Meridian had on hand as liqueurs. For example, he said the tequila was actually a drink known as a "tortilla," which blends tequila with liqueurs. He pointed to a state law that defines a liqueur or cordial as an alcoholic beverage

[M]anufactured or produced by mixing or redistilling neutral spirits, brandy, gin, or other distilled spirits with or over fruits, flowers, plants or pure juices therefrom, or other natural flavoring materials, or with extracts derived from infusions, percolations, or maceration of such materials and containing no less than two and one-half percent sugar by weight.

"This is an area where it causes a lot of confusion for local licensing boards all across the state," Ford said. He allowed as how vodka infused with anise may not contain 2.5% sugar by weight, but said an expert he consulted said the grammar of the sentence is such that the clause doesn't apply to the first part of the sentence.

"A straight vodka, absolutely, it would be in violation," he said.

On May 25, another police officer visited Cafe Meridian and found two men sitting at the bar drinking beers withough food. Ford said they were likely patrons who had gotten up from their meals to talk to the woman behind the bar, which he said was "a bar-type counter," not a bar, even though police said there was a display of alcohol behind it and it features bar-like stools.

The board decides Thursday what action to take, if any. Police said they have the alcohol safely stored and would return it if the board determines it is legal for the restaurant to serve.

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