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City shuts Theater District club over underage drinking

The Boston Licensing Board yesterday ordered Icon, 100 Warrenton St., shut indefinitely over a pair of incidents in which detectives found underage drinkers on the premises.

Separately, the board ordered a seven-day license suspension for the neighboring Venu, owned by the same company, for a back-to-school champagne-spraying event at which detectives found some people swilling the cheap bubbly straight from the bottle instead of just spraying friends with it. State regulations bar patrons from drinking directly from a champagne or wine bottle unless it's accompanied by a meal.

The indefinite suspensions, for incidents involving Venezuelan nationals using bogus national ID cards and passports, come as the board and other Theater District clubs ready for a Jan. 27 hearing at which officials and club owners will try to come up with new solutions to curb the area's perennial problems with closing-time violence and melees.

And they come as club owners say they're beginning to lose the battle against both young people from countries where IDs with bogus birth dates are easy to come by and against Internet-based companies that offer increasingly sophisticated fake IDs that can beat even the state-of-the-art and expensive license scanners many venues frequented by students now use.

At a hearing on Tuesday, BPD Det. Daniel MacDonald testified that on a routine inspection on Sept. 23, he and his partner, Sgt. Det. Robert Mulvey, found a 19-year-old from Venezuela with a vodka and Red Bull and a 20-year-old with a fake New York license swigging champagne from a bottle. The Venezuelan had used a Venezuelan ID and passport that showed him to be 21.

A month later, the detectives returned and found two young-looking men at a VIP table with mixed drinks - one a vodka and soda, the other a vodka and cranberry. The guy with the vodka and soda turned out to be an 18-year-old Venezuelan with government-issued IDs that gave his age as 21; the other guy was 19 with similar IDs from Colombia, he said.

The detectives established their true ages after they admitted going to Suffolk - by calling the college's police and asking them to look up their ages.

To no avail, club manager William Robinson pleaded for leniency. He handed board Chairwoman Christine Puligine a stack of 85 fake IDs he said his staff had confiscated on Oct. 23, and said that on Sept. 23, the club confiscated 53 fake IDs.

The IDs are just getting too good, he said, adding that, unlike police, he and his door staff can't just ask young-looking would-be patrons where they go to school and then call up the schools to verify their ages, because that information is protected by federal privacy laws.

Robinson added that after the second incident, he ordered his staff to turn away anybody with a Venezuelan ID - which he said has basically meant the area's large Venezuelan population, even people legitimately of age, is now boycotting Icon because they don't want to go where their friends are barred. He added he's been called a racist over the policy and that he has watched Venezuelans turned away from Icon go around the corner to another club, which has no similar compunctions.

Board Chairwoman Christine Pulgini said one possible answer might be to ask local colleges to let students request college IDs with their ages on them. Mulvey added that students of age can get a Massachusetts liquor ID from the RMV - it's one of the IDs that clubs and bars can accept as proof of age without worrying about consequences if it turns out the holder is not actually of age.

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Comments

Why was Suffolk allowed to give up the student info to BPD who presumably didn't have a warrant? Isn't protected information still protected when police informally ask for it?

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I am too lazy to look this up to give you relevant citations, but the last time I researched this to my surprise I made the conclusion that this is all legal. The various federal privacy laws do not protect this data in these circumstances, I believe. Now of course, Suffolk certainly has the right to refuse to provide BPD with this data, in which case they would have to get a warrant, or the city can pass a law forcing them to cooperate (the constitutionality of such a law would be questionable, however IMO).

Personally, I have a huge problem with this. The student's privacy rights should supercede the enforcement of silly liquor laws. I also have a problem with the fact that Suffolk PD, which do have full law enforcement powers (though I can't take any unarmed "cop" seriously), even have access to any of the university's student databases in the first place. Campus PDs should have a certain degree of a wall of isolation from the rest of the university's operations and staff.

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This is one of the things that sometimes makes me embarrassed to call this city my home.

Why is nightlife behavior (namely bottle service, but also things like happy hour, closing hours etc) that is completely fine in every other major US city the scourge of the earth in Boston?

It is especially ironic, that these kids come from authoritarian Venezuela, where the drinking age is 18, to supposedly land of the free USA, where they are told they cannot engage in one of the largest social custom humans have been enjoying for millennia. Granted, this is not a Boston thing, and is equally idiotic nationwide. But if the city is completely fine in choosing to not enforce the law in other areas (illegal immigration), they can certainly do it here as well.

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I read about how San Francisco is known for being complete dicks to club owners and the police department trying to mandate things like security cameras in every bar.

The problem is there is a silent (and not so silent) majority of people who are in favor of Boston's restrictions. College kids get blamed for everything in Boston and no one comes to their defense. A majority of voters in the region aren't affected by the antiquated liquor laws and have little reason to complain. The people who do complain the loudest are the ones who only want the laws strengthened. Bar and clubs just don't generate enough money to have substantial influence.

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If you don't like the liquor laws, blame the state. Take happy hours, for example: That's a state law. Well, or even the federal government, for insisting states set their minimum drinking age at 21.

Where you can blame the city is for announcing you want to allow BYOB in smaller restaurants - and then not doing anything about it for a year.

But really, we're supposed to rise to the defense of college kids who keep jeopardizing business owners by pulling all this fake-ID crap? Nope, not sorry in the least. I wonder if the club could sue the kids who got them shut down.

There is a separate issue of violence in clubs, in particular at closing time in the Theater District, that college students have little to do with, I'll grant you - it certainly wasn't an issue here. But nobody's blaming college kids for that.

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Cut price food = yay! Even non-drinkers can join in.

The drinking age is bullcrap, though. Makes sense in someplace where every student has his or her own car. Makes no sense here. Maybe when we become part of Canada we can come up with a more reasonable law, rather than a Sharia law for drinking.

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Whenever there's a post about liquor enforcement in Boston someone always bring up the point that Massachusetts has far more restrictive laws then other states and this is holding Boston back from being a more popular city.

This might be true, but there's thin public support for changing these sorts of laws so they are unlikely to change anytime soon. (With the possible exception of beer distribution.) It seems most voters are either fine with the laws as they are or don't see relaxing them to be a priority.

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Many of the reasons Boston has a nightlife scene that is a fraction of what a city of our size and demographic should have is definitely due to draconian state and federal laws that the city is unable to change even if it wanted to. But, the city definitely has control of the enforcement priorities and practices of the city police department and licensing board, and while the usage of such enforcement discretion is not as good as as a change of some of the unreasonable liquor and entertainment laws, it certainly would help.

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I have been a bartender in Boston for almost 20 years. Anyone who works in Massachusetts and sells alcohol can tell you, that a foreign id is unacceptable and you will not be served no matter how old you are. Also school ids will not fly.
The only acceptable forms of Id are a valid non expired drivers license or id from the US, Massachusetts liquor Id, a passport/passport ID card or military Id. Many bars in Boston won't even take id s from out of state because the law is so strict. You also have to have proper identification on you to buy booze at all. The rule of thumb is you get carded if you look under 30, but an establishment could get cited for serving someone who is 50 that lacks an id.
Believe me, considering the number of tourists and people from all over the world that live in Boston any bartender, cocktail server or bouncer will tell you this is an argument that comes up at least once a night. And if you want to keep your job or liquor license you follow the law and do not serve that person. Also requiring your staff to get TIPPS training is very common. This is course you take every couple of years to learn about the law and safety issues surrounding the sale of alcohol.
Are some of these restrictions a pain in the butt? Yes. Does it stink to turn away a 28yr old with a Canadian drivers license? Yes. Could some of these laws be updated or more modern? Of course. That's a whole different discussion. But if you are not following the current law, you're going to get in trouble.

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Just want to clarify something about our laws. You cannot be sanctioned by the Boston licensing board or the ABCC if you serve someone that is 50 and has no ID. You also can take any ID you want, or even no ID. You can only be sanctioned if the person you served is actually under 21.

Mass law does spell out specific acceptable forms of ID (in typical ridiculous MA fashion, out of state DLs are not on that list). But, only accepting those IDs affords you certain legal protections that accepting IDs not on that list does not. Thus many places choose to err on the side of caution and not accept any ID that is not on that list. This is especially true with places that do not have doormen, and IDs are checked by bartenders and servers - a bartender or a server just doesn't have the expertise to check a wide variety of IDs compared to a well trained doorman plus is less accountable than having one or two doormen.

Bottom line is you are only breaking the law if the person you served is actually under 21, but if you do, the law will come down harder on you if you did not demand one of the MA acceptable forms of ID.

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Development of Boston Theatre District needs more talented skilled designers/city planners. Walking through Boston Theatre District could be a pleasant experience for all !

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Oh the horrors, a 19 year old and a 20 year old drinking alcohol!

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