Seal Pub Owners Mount Defense Against Violation Allegations

By: William F. Galvin

The Seal Pub in Harwich Center. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH — The owners of the Seal Pub argued that a surge in unruly customers is not unique to their establishment but is a post-pandemic situation restaurants and bars across the state are experiencing.

The pub owners on Tuesday offered a defense against several alleged liquor license violations filed by the police department with the board of selectmen. Town Administrator Joseph Powers conducted an initial show cause hearing on several alleged violations two weeks ago.

In that session, members of the police department detailed allegations against the establishment, including serving after hours, serving intoxicated individuals, a combative patron and noise violations. The incidents took place between May 22 and June 5.

Owner Bob Young said that there has been a surge in unruly customers that began in May when pandemic restrictions began to ease. He said the pub experienced “swarms” of people, many of them “pent up” and letting loose following Gov. Charlie Baker’s removal of the state of emergency order eliminating masks and opening up restaurants and bars.

Young referenced a Boston Globe article pointing out that restaurants and bars across the state were seeing unruly patrons. With the onslaught of these incidents he reached out to the police department seeking guidance and direction. He said he requested a cruiser drive through the parking area at midnight and cut back on serving hours for a week, which seemed to work.

“I asked about police standards and what tools we have to be a better business,” Young said. “Have I tried to be as proactive as possible from a business standpoint and come up with solutions?”

“Yes,” responded Police Chief David Guillemette. “The problem was intoxicated people.”

“They’re not coming from our area,” Young responded.

Former selectman Ed McManus testified as a patron of the pub and praised the work of doormen in keeping one intoxicated man from entering. He said he's been a patron since the pub opened and noted that last summer there were no complaints.

“A soon as the mask provisions were changed by the Governor a lot of chaotic things started going on,” McManus said.

Regarding Sgt. Amy Walinski’s report of seeing people drinking at the bar after hours, bartender Ian Doe denied that he served staff, suggesting that the bottles on the bar were part of the cleaning process. As for the staff in the bar, Doe said they were waiting for credit card processing and distribution of tips. Owner Mike Scott said the last sale of alcohol was registered at 12:57 a.m. that night.

As for the incident with the so-called “drunk in the woods” who said he had been drinking in the pub, the owners said the person was served twice at 9:14 p.m. and 9:57. The incident with Officer Christopher Arrigo took place at 12:51 a.m. Young said the person may have had more to drink after leaving the pub. Another combative patron was served only a glass of water while inside the pub, he said.

Doorman Aiden O’Laughlin said he handled the incident were a person was found passed out in the back seat of a truck that did not belong to him. The patron came in to visit friends and was quickly removed when two women said he was being problematic, he said. The man was escorted outside and O’Laughlin said he made sure the person was not driving. The doorman was called away to address another issue and the intoxicated person must have then entered the vehicle, he said.

Powers and Town Counsel Jeffery Blake had a number of questions relating to town liquor license regulations. Both Doe and O’Laughlin said they were not familiar with the provisions. Scott said the regulations were not distributed by the town when the license was issued, but he received a copy from the former owner.

“I prioritize the safety and security of the customers,” O’Laughlin said.

Scott also spoke of the frustration among staff in town restaurants and bars who attended the police department annual liquor license and serving seminar. Given the noise bylaw and other town provisions that are being enforced, he said businesses are being set up “to fail.” Scott said he and staff question whether they want to call the police department when in need of help.

Young objected to the proceeding and the inability to discuss the allegations in advance, adding that he was completely unprepared for the hearing process and did not understand his need for legal counsel.

Powers responded that the proceedings were a quasi-judicial hearing no different than a public hearing. Young’s objection was noted and denied. Powers said it is his duty to gather as much information as possible, so selectmen get a full picture when making decisions.

“I think you have enough testimony to find in favor of the complaints,” Blake said.

No findings were made announced Tuesday. Powers usually presents his findings to the selectmen at a later meeting.