Closure of Problem Bar Seen as Victory for Residents, More May Come Next Week

After a marathon four-hour hearing, residents and Chelsea Police are hailing the decision of the License Commission on Tuesday night to pull the liquor and entertainment licenses at Las Palmas Restaurant and Lounge, 44 Central Ave., as a victory for quality of life.

“There were a lot of factors in the Board’s decision on this, but overwhelmingly it was the concerns of residents, the years of complaints, the violence and fighting there, and the numbers of calls to the police,” said Commissioner Roy Avellaneda. “The Board rescinded the bar’s license to sell alcohol and have entertainment. They can continue to operate as a restaurant and we’ll see where that goes…They were issued a license for a restaurant and you can see that has completely changed over to a lounge. They’ve even changed the name from Palmas Restaurant to Palmas Lounge. We never issued a license for a lounge. They completely changed the use…What is there is not in the spirit of the original license.”

The definitive move on Tuesday night might just be the tip of the iceberg as it pertains to bars and lounges and clubs in Chelsea that generate problems and violence.

Next Tuesday, May 5, the License Commission will conduct a public hearing into violent incidents at Plaza Mexico, with a possibility that location could also meet a similar fate.

The Palmas hearing this past Tuesday was generated by a shooting and carjacking outside the lounge on April 3. Police said that Ruben Ortiz, of Dorchester, allegedly shot up a car outside of the lounge and then carjacked a passing motorist on Central Avenue. He had that person allegedly drive him to the McArdle Bridge where he allegedly tossed the firearm into the Creek before being arrested.

Even more disturbing was the conduct of the management of the lounge when police arrived.

Police told the Commission that upon arrival, the owners closed down the metal grates on the establishment and would not let patrons leave or police come in.

“A Chelsea officer testified that he could hear people screaming and yelling inside bar and was refused admittance to check on the wellbeing of persons inside,” read a statement from police. “Only after a police supervisor arrived and told management that he would forcibly enter the establishment did the management let officers in to see if any other victims were inside and to begin the preliminary investigation. Officers also testified that management stated that the bars’ surveillance system was not working.”

Avellaneda said that piece of information was a major factor in the decision too.

“Police couldn’t get in to interview witnesses; patrons were locked inside and couldn’t get out,” he said. “That was a big thing for us.”

Additionally, on April 7, the City’s Inspectional Services Department paid a visit to the lounge and found several violations – including selling alcohol purchases in local liquor stores, which is a direct violation of the liquor license.

Neighbors presented a petition to the Commission as well with several hundred signatures.

Councillor Giovanni Recupero said the shut-down was a victory for the neighbors. He said he has been calling for a repeal of the license for the last three years.

“I’ve been pushing this for more than a year,” he said. “After all this time, they finally did it, after all the incidents they had. I didn’t want to give it to them when they came up to extend their parking last year, but they got it anyway. I’ve been calling for this a long time and I’m glad it finally happened.”

Police Chief Brian Kyes said the department also presented proof that the police have been called to the establishment some 58 times. He also thanked residents for coming out and speaking up against the lounge, which is owned by a Dorchester man.

“All bars in the city should be on notice that the Chelsea Police Department is committed to ensuring all establishments follow the rules and regulations that govern their license,” he said. “You will see increased inspections in the coming weeks and our officers will not hesitate to take action on any violations.”

Avellaneda said it is a continuation of several such victories for quality of life issues, just as in the revocation of the King Arthur’s licenses last year.

“Being a bar or restaurant doesn’t automatically mean you’re a negative,” he said. “People love going to Davis Square in Somerville because there are bars and music there. Those places don’t, however, become a drain on the community. There are plenty of places with liquor licenses that contribute positively to the community.”

The business does have a five day appeal period upon receiving the written decision from the city before the sanctions take effect.

The hearing on Plaza Mexico will take place in the Chelsea Pubic Library at 6 p.m. on May 5.

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