Do Lewisburg bars serve underage persons?

Caroline Fassett, Investigative News Editor

On Sept. 8, Lewisburg businesses Bull Run Tap House and Towne Tavern were charged by the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement for committing liquor law violations. A Public Information Release Report drafted by the Pennsylvania State Police indicated that both of these restaurant/bars were charged with selling, furnishing, and/or giving or permitting “such sale, furnishing or giving of liquor and/or malt or brewed beverages to a minor.” Both establishments were issued citations on Sept. 29.

The report also stated that these charges will be adjudicated or “brought before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who has the authority to impose penalties ranging from $50 to $1000 for minor offenses and up to $5000 for more serious offenses.” Other penalties that can be imposed by the ALJ include license suspension, revocation of the license, or the mandating of licensee training “in an effort to educate them on the requirements of being a licensee.”

Although a representative from Bull Run declined to comment and representatives from Towne Tavern could not be reached for comment, employers of other Lewisburg bars — including The Lewisburg Hotel, the Smiling Chameleon Draft House, and the Civil War Cider Co. (CWC) — discussed the policies and guidelines that their respective establishments implement to effectively avoid serving underage persons.

Dale Walize, General Manager of the Lewisburg Hotel, said that over 50% of the staff is RAMP-certified, meaning that they have completed the Responsible Alcohol Management Program, which is a collection of training and resources designed for alcohol service staffs. Fines are lessened by the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement if bars renew their certifications every two years, he said.

“If [a bar] goes at least four years without an infraction, fines could potentially be cut in half,” Walize stated.

Walize said that the bar area of the hotel tends to host younger crowds on Thursday nights, which is wing night. The waitstaff and bartenders of the hotel are very pragmatic in checking the identification cards of individuals who enter the bar area, Walize stated.

“If they look under 30, [we] card them. We’ve carded people in their forties; it’s a safeguard. It’s just simple: we can be fined, so it’s better to be safe,” Walize said.

The entire staff of CWC is required to be RAMP-certified within 3 months of employment, according to Casey Danowsky, manager of CWC. Similar to the Lewisburg Hotel, the staff at CWC is trained to check identification cards “if they feel like the patron looks 30 years old or under,” stated Danowsky.

“This helps to ensure that an adult of age with a younger look is treated with the same diligence as a newly 21-year-old,” Danowsky noted.

Tedd Biernstein, owner of the Smiling Chameleon Draft House, stated that his entire staff is RAMP-certified. He added that the servers and bartenders check the identification cards of everyone who looks “forty years or younger.”

Walize, Danowsky, and Beirnstein confirmed that the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement will infrequently send minors into bars to verify that the employers are consistently checking their patrons’ identification cards.

“They will bust you if you fail to check,” explained Walize. “About five or six years ago, they sent a female in, and our most experienced bartender failed to card her. [The Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement] imposed a $1200 fine on us.”

Biernstein stated that the Bureau has sent underage individuals into The Smiling Chameleon a number of times. If the bartender were to serve the underage individual, Biernstein said that that person would immediately “give the beer to the officers outside so we’ll be cited.”

“[The Bureau] has attempted to [cite us] three times. But we refuse service to the [underage] people they send. And they’ll send us a certificate of congratulations afterward,” Biernstein said.

CWC received two of these certificates in 2015, Danowsky said.

Walize said that his staff doesn’t often see fake identification cards, but when they do they are well prepared to spot them. Aside from carefully examining the printed photo and expiration date of each card they see, employees study from a book containing state-based illustrations of the layouts of identification cards.

Similarly, the staff at CWC is “equipped with a current Driver’s License Guide that entails all valid U.S. [and Canadian] state driver’s license formats.”

Biernstein said that the Smiling Chameleon “does the best it can” in regards to checking fake identification cards.

“Some can be run and identified by scanners, but they’re difficult to identify. Even state cops have told me that they’re difficult to identify,” Biernstein said.

Although the Smiling Chameleon has yet to be implicated for serving underage persons, a bar that Biernstein used to own was penalized for doing so.

“The [underage person] had her real identification card, but the bartender didn’t do the math correctly in calculating her birthday.” That individual was an undercover policeperson, Biernstein said.

Danowsky said that CWC has encountered “numerous failed attempts” of underage persons attempting to purchase or consume alcohol.

“[CWC has] never had an issue in the past with serving underagers due to our bartenders’ sensibility and keen eye…we pride ourselves on taking the correct measures to ensure situations [involving underage persons] are handled discreetly,” said Danowsky.

Rob Antanitis, owner of CWC, expressed his hope that underage persons dissociate their drinking from his “very small, community based business.”

“If underagers from [the University] repeatedly jeopardize our license by attempting to purchase alcohol from us, they are jeopardizing our jobs, our building’s mortgage, and the many years of time, energy, and investment that myself and our community have contributed,” said Antanitis.

Walize acknowledged that the Lewisburg Hotel is commonly perceived by the community as “more of an eatery than a drinking place.” Yet its bar retains stringent policies in regards to its distribution of alcohol; for example, it refuses to serve alcohol to persons sitting at tables with underage individuals unless they are the guardians of those individuals. This decision likely stems from the Pennsylvania State Law that prohibits persons under the age of 21 from dining with individuals consuming alcohol unless those individuals are 25 or older.

CWC also discourages those under the age of 21 from entering the establishment unless they are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

“[Our] bar staff reserves the right to refuse service and kindly ask patrons to leave under certain circumstances.  One example of this might be a group of 21-year-olds mixed with underagers who stroll into the bar expecting the older friends to order for them or use an older sibling’s ID,” Danowsky said.

Biernstein discussed the rigorous guidelines of The Smiling Chameleon, saying that anyone who walks in “visibly intoxicated” will not be served.

“Any good establishment is not going to let someone get drunk,” Biernstein noted.

Although CWC has never been cited by the Bureau, Danowsky said that “there is always an underage [University] student waiting to use their older sibling’s ID or freshly mailed fake ID for the 1st or 100th time.”

“We will not hesitate to act accordingly and call the police with an additional ban from our facility,” Danowsky said.

Walize stated that he doesn’t always agree with the policies of the Bureau, adding that they have “a whole bunch of gambits” aside from sending minors into bars, like its tendency to check the hotel’s sales receipts. Yet he acknowledged the efficiency of their efforts, particularly its effectiveness in keeping underage persons safe.

“This program that they have…sometimes I think it’s a not a fair thing to do [to bars]. But I understand it. I understand that they’re trying to keep the nuisance out, and keep kids safe,” Walize said.

While expressing his wish that underage drinkers stay safe and responsible, Antanitis added that the United States should “remove its age restrictions.”

“Eighteen year old soldiers die for our country, but they cannot drink a beer. Many countries have no age restrictions on alcohol; and the type of drinking that Europeans engage in is much more healthy than the underground, anxiety filled, binge drinking soirees that our undergrads are forced to frequent,” said Antanitis.

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