Tavern hit with extended closure


The proprietor of a troubled Kearny tavern has agreed to “do the time,” and then some.

Currently serving a 60-day closure for ABC violations through Dec. 22, The Gin Mill, Brighton Ave. and Afton St., will remain shut an additional 75 days after that, again for a series of ABC infractions – several being repeat offenses – following a hearing held by the municipal governing body last Tuesday.

Two Town Council members – Eileen Eckel and Michael Landy – wanted to impose a more severe penalty but they were outvoted by their colleagues. Both said they felt they owed it to the bar’s neighbors – who have complained about unruly behavior by patrons outside the bar – to raise the ante.

Actually, given the calculations made by municipal prosecutor Theresa McGuire, the tavern could have been shut for as long as 135 days for the most recent violations but, after a conference with the licensee’s attorney, the prosecutor proposed a 65-day day closure, conditional on the licensee waiving his right to an appeal to the state ABC commissioner.

In the end, however, the governing body voted to tack on an extra 10 days and tavern owner John Hodnett consented to the 75-day closure after pleading guilty to charges that on Aug. 1, he allowed non-employees to be in the bar after closing, had an incomplete employee list and allowed a licensee/employee to work at the bar while intoxicated; that on Aug. 28, that he allowed a public nuisance requiring police intervention; and that on Sept. 9, he allowed a “disqualified” employee, failed to maintain a true book of account, had an incomplete employee list and had “adulterated” alcoholic beverages.

Hodnett’s attorney Kevin Corriston said his client was probably “not the best businessman in the world, but I think I’ve impressed upon him the subtleties [of ABC rules] so that he has a better understanding.”

For example, Corriston said, Hodnett should have included his DJ on his employee list because “anybody operating as an entertainer must be on the list” and he should have taken better precautions to prevent the presence of “fruit flies” around his bottles of liquor.

Corriston said Hodnett has been trying to improve the management of the bar but “he’s had trouble keeping a doorman” who could help him “check [patrons’] IDs and keep order.” And he’s “hiring older bartenders” in the belief that they will be more responsible.

As a result of the extended closure, the owner has suffered “significant financial hardship” and “is living off his savings,” Corriston said.

Corriston said his client realizes that, upon reopening, “he has to make an effort to run a responsible business.”

When Santos and Councilman Richard Konopka pointed out that his client has given prior assurances that he would make changes in his operation that turned out to be empty promises, Corriston said that, “hopefully,” things will improve in the future.

“Clearly, he has to get his act together,” the lawyer added.

The governing body was to hear another ABC case against Marisol Liquors, 32 Davis Ave., but no one from the business showed so, by a 6-3 vote, it was decided to adjourn the hearing at a date to be announced later.

– Ron Leir 

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