NEWPORT CITY – The Newport City Council took no action Monday on a request to renew Griff’s Pub Class 1 and 2 liquor license.
The council renews such liquor licenses every year. Normally licenses sail through the council with ease, but some city officials are concerned about recent problems with the popular downtown hangout.
Police Chief J. Paul Duquette, who reviews all liquor licenses before the council looks at them, said there had been some serious incidents at the pub over the past year.
“The major allegation the Liquor Control Board is going to look at is also the one I am concerned about and that’s where sexual acts occurred on the premises involving Griff’s employees,” said Duquette. “I think that’s quite serious.”
One of the employees was allegedly involved in the incident and a second observed. Both have been fired.
The employees who worked that night were not regular staff at the pub and were not working at the time.
The incident took place in the restroom but witnesses and the victim have different accounts about which restroom.
Videos taken of the incident clearly show it was the men’s restroom, Dingledine said.
The incident could have happened at any bar, restaurant or sandwich shop in Vermont, Dingledine said.
There have also been less drastic incidents, Duquette said. One was when police officers went to pick up the doorman who had a mittimus warrant. Dingledine said, as she understands it, police showed up and took the person away without telling any other employee. The person, at the time, was acting as the bouncer and had been checking identifications to ensure everyone was of legal drinking age.
Another incident was a customer who led police on an 18-mile pursuit, Duquette said.
That person left at nine, but returned at 11:30 and staff refused to serve him, owner Dan Griffith said.
During Monday’s meeting there was a question about what happens if the council doesn’t renew the license before the May 1 deadline. Dingledine suggested the council issue a provisional license until the Department of Liquor Control makes a decision. The department has already scheduled a hearing for May 11.
Owners Dan and Nancy Griffith challenged a fine the Department of Liquor Control issued over a fight that broke out in the municipal parking lot outside the pub. However, it is not clear if those involved had been customers at Griff's. The Department of Liquor Control decided to take up both issues at the same time, said Nancy Griffith Tuesday during a phone interview.
Dingledine said the Griffithes are trying to run a nice establishment and it would be a shame for them to lose their livelihood.
Council President John Wilson said he never had to face a situation like this. He said the liquor commission could have made the lives of council members easier by making a decision before now. “They kept delaying and delaying,” Wilson said of the upcoming hearing.
The liquor commission approved the pub’s third class 2012 license, said Dan Griffith who added Jerry Cote told him the state approved the license. He said, "We have approved you. We’re meeting with you on May 11th. From there it could be a fine, suspension or revocation.”
Earlier in the discussion, Nancy Griffith pointed out the couple ran the pub in Derby for four years without major incidents. For two of those four years, the Griffiths also ran the pub at the Newport Country Club.
City Clerk and Treasure James Johnson said he thinks the council is only concerned about the first and second-class license that allows the sale of beer and wine on premises.
Alderman Denis Chenette suggested the council hold off signing the license until the city attorney gives an opinion. However, no other council members would second the motion.
The city will speak with the city attorney anyway, said Wilson.
“I would like a little lead time if you are going to shut me down,” said Griffith. “I have food, liquor and beer that need to be disbursed out.”