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SLA suspends liquor license following violence at popular Saratoga bar

Gaffney's in Saratoga Springs (file photo)
Gaffney's in Saratoga Springs (file photo)

The New York State Liquor Authority has suspended the liquor license of a downtown Saratoga Springs bar linked to several violent incidents.

Following a string of violent late-night incidents on Caroline Street, Gaffney’s had its liquor license temporarily suspended at an emergency meeting of the State Liquor Authority on Tuesday.

The suspension came a day after the City of Saratoga Springs ordered the bar shuttered after it bounced checks related to city permitting fees.

Violence was reported as recently as May 1st, when a person was stabbed in a fight that began inside the bar and migrated outside into the street. A city police officer was also injured in the incident.

Between January 2021 and March 2022, the police department tallied 65 case reports associated with Gaffney’s, on top of the many other calls related to violence in the city’s nightclub district.

SLA Attorney William Brennan called the bar a “clear and present danger” to the community.

“The licensee’s behavior and businesses model that seemingly can’t control the violent behavior of its patrons have already adversely affected the health, safety, and welfare of the inhabitants of the area of the license premises. In consideration of this ongoing pattern of behavior, we would ask that an emergency order of suspension is required.”

Gaffney’s was already facing penalties related to prior violations even before Tuesday’s emergency meeting.

SLA General Counsel Gary Meyerhoff said hearings originally set for the end of March were moved to May 5th at the licensee’s request, before another letter was received on Monday.

“We received a letter from the licensee’s counsel seeking to adjourn the hearing again, apparently tone deaf to the fact that there was another stabbing this weekend,” said Meyerhoff.

In early March, days after the city police department described an incident where three were arrested and three officers injured, Gaffney’s issued a statement via PR firm Relentless Awareness.

The police department linked the incident to the bar, which called that characterization “another PR hit job.” The statement went on to describe Gaffney’s as having been “a community partner, and supported by our leading security team and we refute the continual targeting of our establishment.”

Meyerhoff noted the response from Gaffney’s following prior incidents before the SLA Tuesday.

“We have police reports showing the violence emerging from his place, and the suggestion that he is not to blame for this, it seems it may be adding to the inability of this license to do anything to correct the conduct, the operation that’s causing these incidents. They’re continuing to suffer and permit this disorder.”

Gaffney’s management softened its tone in a new statement released by Relentless Awareness Wednesday afternoon. It reads:

“We respect and intend to comply with the suspension order. We will work with the State Liquor Authority and the City of Saratoga Springs to rectify this unfortunate situation with the hope of reopening as soon as it is practicable to do so.”

Saratoga Springs City Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino said the city has met with the owners multiple times, and that Gaffney’s had presented a plan to address community complaints.

“For example, they said they were going to start wanding patrons on the way in. And this most recent incident involved the folding knife that was on the person of the perpetrator when he entered the establishment, so clearly, that failed,” said Montagnino.

Todd Shimkus, President of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, hails the SLA suspension. Shimkus says the bar should not reopen until issues are addressed.

“We would love to have them open, but they have to be safe. And that’s what we need from all of the bars in our community. It’s an imperfect world, certainly, business world there. But you’ve got to do your best. You’ve got to put the community’s interest first. You’ve got to put the safety of your employees and your customers as a top priority. Gaffney’s has not done that.”

Meantime, Commissioner Montagnino says the city is continuing to look for ways to ensure the safety of late-night visitors ahead of the busy summer tourism season, when the city’s population more than doubles.

The Democrat, who earlier this year instituted a plan to redirect police resources to increase downtown patrols, has also floated the idea of closing off Caroline Street to vehicles on certain occasions, similar to when streets are closed for special events.

“We’ve had some mixed responses from some business owners on Caroline Street, and what we may try to do is a sort of, a test version on one or two special occasions in a small portion of the downtown area to try out the idea of cordoning off an area and making it a small security zone,” said Montagnino.

Montganino said police overtime funding for patrols of the downtown area has been increased and that seven new recruits graduating from the academy in July will be available to assist.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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