Murf’s Tavern Fans Plea for Later Closing

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Murf's Tavern on Division Street in Sag Harbor.

Fans, friends and employees of Murf’s Tavern, the little old saltbox bar at 64 Division Street that used to stay open later than any other local bars, filed to the podium at the Sag Harbor Village Board meeting Tuesday night to call for the bar’s recently imposed 2 a.m. closing time to be restored to 4 a.m., the state mandated time bars must close.

After several speakers complained the restriction would damage Murf’s viability and hurt the village as a whole — one speaker warned that patrons who wanted to party to 4 a.m. now might go to unsupervised “house parties” that could end in mayhem like fires and alcohol poisoning — Police Chief Austin J. McGuire told them they were addressing the wrong agency.

The State Liquor Authority (SLA) and Murf’s negotiated the 2 a.m. restriction after the SLA received reports about the business, he said, adding the Village Board had “no knowledge” of the situation.

“We send information to the Liquor Authority and they act on it,” the chief said. He added that he wasn’t going to “get into the facts” of what police reported.

The “violations were brought forth” to the SLA “and they (Murf’s and the SLA) made an agreement with the attorneys” calling for the earlier closing time, the chief said. In a later interview, he added that the agreement was made at a private meeting early in May ahead of a scheduled hearing on the case, so no representatives of the village police attended and no formal hearing was ever held.

The 2 a.m. closing “has nothing to do with us other than doing our job like we’re supposed to,” Chief McGuire said at the board meeting.

Until the SLA imposed the 2 a.m. restriction, Murf’s was the only bar in the village that remained open after about 2 a.m., the others closing well ahead of the state’s 4 a.m. limit, according to Chief McGuire.

Nine speakers, including a taxi operator, a Murf’s bartender and other employees of the tavern, went to the podium Tuesday to tell the board it was “not fair” for the bar “to be pressured” to close at 2 a.m.; that the earlier closing was “stopping everyone from enjoying” themselves; and that restricting the bar’s revenue hurt that of many other nearby businesses.

One said keeping bars open late decreases the occurrence of “house parties” and protects “private homes” from damage because the bar supervises its patrons, cutting drinkers off while Murf’s “awesome boss Jay Hamel” makes sure people go home in cabs if they shouldn’t drive “and sometimes paying for it.”

One speaker said the bar hadn’t had any issues for 30 years but now two patrol cars are parked across the street in the Henry Persan & Sons hardware store parking lot in the wee hours, shining their headlights at the bar.

Another said fewer people are renting in the area because “of what’s happening out here.”

“If we lose the late-night scene … we’re losing the town’s history,” said speaker Rob Deery.

Another said the bar’s trouble was “due to a former bartender and patron who were over-served.”

Jay Hamel, the owner of the tavern, angrily told the board that “the chief was not telling the truth. I was shut down because my bar and his office was told that I have the number-one drug den in the Hamptons and it couldn’t be furthest from the truth. Am I wrong patrons?” he asked the audience and line of people waiting to speak. “Can you score drugs in my bar?”

Many answered “no.”

Jay Hamel, the owner of Murf’s Tavern, angrily told the board on Tuesday that “the chief was not telling the truth.”

After the mayor instructed him to address the board, not the audience, he said, “Okay. This is absolute Bravo Sierra, a bunch of bull____. And I’m fighting it, okay? It’s not fair. I’ve never had any violations but one underage kid … and the other two charges are a bunch of bull____.”

A lot of people come to Sag Harbor because of its “great nightlife,” said Murf’s bartender Nicholas Carlton, and they generate “a great deal of revenue too.” Bars can work out problems if there is cooperation with local authorities, he added, not when they’re being intimidated. “There are other solutions besides dropping a hammer and forcing a bar to close early,” he said.

“There is no teamwork between the police, the town and the late-night bars,” he added. It was his understanding that the village police “are the input to the SLA” and over the last 30 years, “we’ve had no issue and suddenly and recently we’ve had many issues and the people who are complaining are not sitting in this room. They’re wearing badges, Sag Harbor Police Department badges.” The mayor and board, he added, could influence them.

“When my police department is out there working, sir, it’s based on laws,” Mayor Schroeder replied. “If any of them got out there and were biased or anything else, all you have to do is show up and tell me. But I will tell you right now. That won’t happen. I have seen people stand there and yell and scream at these people and it’s ‘Thank you sir, thank you sir, no ma’am.’” They have no interest in harassing a bar just to be mean.”

“The last 30 years, there hadn’t been a problem,” Mr. Carlton replied. “Recently, somehow, miraculously, the SLA has been getting a lot of complaints … It’s a strange coincidence” that, with a “different person” in charge of the department, there are now problems. “I don’t think our bars have changed much in the last 30 years. What’s the variable here?”

Chief McGuire was appointed chief in July 2017 after having served since June 2016 as acting chief, following the retirement of Tom Fabiano.

The former chief, who spoke to the board about the ongoing problem of cars parked alongside the entryway to the village along the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike, said that he supported the employees of Murf’s.

“If there is a problem, I’m sure Chief McGuire is working on a solution,” he said.

 

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Peter Boody is news editor of The Sag Harbor Express. Previously he was the editor of the Southampton Press for many years and also edited several other papers, including the Shelter Island Reporter and the East Hampton Press, of which he was founding editor. He was a regular correspondent for the New York Times Long Island section and wrote the novel “Thomas Jefferson, Rachel & Me.”