The Downtown Binghamton bar The Rathskeller Pub, or “The Rat,” which has been closed since April 13 due to an emergency suspension of its liquor license by the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA), reacquired its license and reopened its doors last Friday.
The SLA’s original suspension of The Rathskeller’s liquor license was the result of various violations, most notably an incident involving a police raid of the bar on Jan. 27 to check for underage drinking. Bar co-owner Andrew Urso was charged at the time with reckless endangerment for allegedly telling a DJ to yell “fire” in order to clear the bar before the police raid.
Christine Pasquale-Urso, The Rathskeller’s other co-owner, claimed that parts of the SLA report were inaccurate and are contradicted by security camera footage from the night of the incident which shows patrons walking calmly in and out of the bar.
The owners of The Rathskeller brought the video footage to the police over the summer, according to Pasquale-Urso.
“A lot of the reason we lost the license was that the police report said there was danger and that havoc was created, but after the police department looked at video surveillance they realized this wasn’t the case,” Pasquale-Urso said.
After Binghamton Mayor Matthew Ryan and Chief of Police Joseph Zikuski viewed the security camera footage, both wrote letters to the SLA that prompted the return of the bar’s liquor license on July 14.
“I have reviewed all the evidence from the above referenced case and am writing on behalf of the bar owners and operators to request leniency in any penalty or fine that is imposed in this case and also to request that their suspension to operate be lifted, when appropriate,” Ryan wrote in his letter to the SLA.
Ryan expressed doubt that patrons actually believed there was a fire, or that a panic ensued, as described in the original police report.
“When comparing the police report to the security camera at the time the police entered the bar, it is clear that any comments were made with a wink and a nod and other words to the effect that, ‘if you have an illegal ID get out now,'” he wrote.
According to the mayor, those in the bar were not endangered by the announcement, but rather, they were given the discrete opportunity to exit before the predicted bar raid.
Zikuski’s letter to SLA also cast doubt on the circumstances of the incident.
“Over the past several weeks, I have become aware of there being a question about how the owner announced there was a fire in the building causing patrons to leave in a rushed, alarming and chaotic manner,” Zikuski wrote. “Yesterday, July 13, 2011, I was provided with surveillance tapes from the bar and patrons left in an orderly, unalarming manner as the Police entered.”
According to Pasquale-Urso, in addition to paying a $15,000 fine, the owners had to propose changes to The Rathskeller’s operating procedure in order to reacquire their liquor license. These changes, which were agreed upon by the SLA, include the use of a scanner to detect fake identification documents, certification of bouncers as security guards and the training of bartenders under the Alcohol Awareness Training Program (ATAP).
The owners are also making changes to the design and activities offered at the bar. There will be a new area with booth seating, vintage arcade games like Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and pinball and a Wednesday beer club for patrons to try a variety of beers and play games of trivia. Patrons will also be able to order food from the menu of Pasquale’s pizzeria. It is undetermined when these additions will be implemented.
“It took a while to get the license back but we’re excited to be back in business,” Pasquale-Urso said.