2nd showdown for bar

Photo by Ron Leir The Gin Mill tavern is due to be shut for two months.
Photo by Ron Leir
The Gin Mill tavern is due to be shut for two months.

A Kearny tavern that has been the target of neighborhood and police complaints is up against it, once again.

The Gin Mill, at the corner of Brighton and Afton Aves., got thrown a double whammy recently.

First, it lost a legal challenge to dislodge a 60-day suspension of its license for prior ABC-related violations by paying a fine, and, secondly, it got hit with new ABC charges last month.

The upshot is an order issued Sept. 8 by J. Wesley Geiselman, acting director of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, that the bar shall be shuttered, beginning at 2 a.m. on Oct. 23, 2015, and ending at 2 a.m. on Dec. 22, 2015.

Mayor Alberto Santos and Town Attorney Greg Castano Sr. disclosed the latest development on the troubled tavern at last week’s Town Council session.

Whether the tavern will comply with the state order or attempt another legal delay remains to be seen. Montclair attorney John Ambrosio, who filed the most recent appeal on behalf of the licensee, could not be reached by press time.

The litigation over the 60- day closing dates from Kearny PD filing violation notices April 30, 2014, alleging that the then-owners John Hodnett and James Hodnett,

• allowed narcotic activities  in the tavern on Oct. 8, 2013.

• transported alcoholic beverages without proper documents and conducted their business in a manner to create a public nuisance on Dec. 21, 2013.

• Failed to provide a copy  of their most recent license application, failed to maintain invoices, provided an incomplete employee list and employed an unlicensed employee.

On May 27, 2014, at an ABC hearing held before the mayor and Town Council, Gin Mill pleaded no defense and accepted a 60-day license suspension that was to begin June 5, 2014.

But the day before the bar was to shut, Gin Mill applied to the state ABC seeking a fine in lieu of suspension while, at the same time, seeking a stay of the suspension, which was granted, pending a hearing on the merits of the case before the state Administrative Law Judge Mumtaz Bari-Brown.

Kearny, represented by attorney Salvatore Roccaro, argued that because Gin Mill accepted the settlement offer for the 60-day suspension, it had no right to now broach the notion of substituting a fine for the suspension but Bari- Brown ruled, “… that a license holder who agrees to a settlement is not foreclosed, as a matter of law, from applying to the [ABC] director for a fine in lieu of suspension.”

However, the judge also recommended that the ABC director “… not entertain Gin Mill’s request to pay a fine in lieu of suspension…” but gave no specific reason.

At any rate, on Sept. 8, the ABC director acted on that recommendation and denied the tavern’s bid for a substitute fine, noting that Gin Mill “… did not present any additional mitigating factors or make any argument that would be a basis for me to accept a monetary compromise offer in this case.”

Meanwhile, Gin Mill is facing more woes, now that new ABC-related charges have been filed by the KPD against the licensee.

According to a KPD report, Officers Neil Nelson and Michael Blevis were on patrol duty on Aug. 1 when they passed Gin Mill at 2:08 a.m. and observed “15 to 20” people standing outside the tavern entrance with the front door open, and the owner, John Hodnett, exiting with two patrons. “It became apparent that Hodnett was intoxicated,” the report said. The report also noted that the officers saw a DJ “in the process of removing his audio equipment.” The officers called for additional police units to help disperse the crowd.

Following an inspection of  the bar on Aug. 3, the KPD’s ABC unit said they discovered “omissions on the employee list.”

Subsequently, on Aug. 7, the licensee was charged with incomplete employee list, non-employees present after legal hours and licensee or employee at licensed premise while intoxicated.

A hearing on the charges will be convened by the mayor and council, functioning as an ABC board. No date has yet been set for that hearing.

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