By Ceillie Keane
On Wednesday, Feb. 8, the New York State Liquor Advisory (SLA), the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the Schenectady Police Department combined forces to conduct an undercover underage drinking inspection into the early hours of Thursday, Feb. 9 at Geppetto’s on Nott Street.
An anonymous student patron describes the undercover officers as “these two older-looking guys who clearly did not belong,” who were “trying to get information” from the people around them, asking “if [they] were of age” or “what they were drinking.”
After these men were “hanging out at the bar” for approximately an hour, the rest of the officers arrived, officially announced their presence, and revealed the investigation.
According to the student, reactions varied from “shocked” and “worried” to “just unhappy” about waiting through the process, which was a “frustrating experience and a rough ending to the night.”
For some students this “rough ending” resulted in legal consequences. Of the bar’s 75 patrons, the SLA found 55 to be under age.
The DMV ticketed four of these minors for Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument.
Of the three bartenders arrested for allegedly serving alcohol to minors, one was a Union student.
After the events, the SLA released an official announcement of the “Emergency Suspension” of Geppetto’s liquor license due to the “36 violations, including underage sales, unlicensed bouncers, paying employees off the books, and failure to supervise the premises” documented at the bar the night that the undercover inspection occurred.
This “Emergency Suspension” is not automatically permanent.
According to the SLA announcement, “The license is entitled to an expedited hearing before an administrative law judge. An order of summary suspension remains in effect until such time as it is modified by the SLA or a reviewing court.”
Despite the possibility, commenters on Steve Barnes’s post, “SLA busts Geppetto’s in Schenectady for underage drinking,” on his Times Union ‘Table Hopping’ blog remain skeptical about the bar functioning as a law-abiding establishment.
In comment number 22, Hugh Jasol claims that the “Truth is [that] this has been going on here forever.”
The second comment contended earlier that the information is “Hardly surprising. The joint is across the street from Union College and probably survives only because it’s been serving [underage students].”
The connection between the bar and Union students is further confirmed with posts such as Barnes’s comment on the blog lamenting the punishment of “a group of college kids having a good time” at Geppetto’s, without which “Union College will never be the same.”
Though Barnes’s assertion that Union will not “be the same” without Geppetto’s bar across the street reflects the commenter’s personal opinion, the connection between the bar and the campus has been documented.
In a 2004 Times Union article reviewing Geppetto’s Restaurant, the back room was described as a space to hold the dining room “as well as dancing and karaoke nights when Union College, just across the street, is in session.”
In 2006, after owner Paulie Lichorat’s controversial visit to a Union fraternity with “longtime friend” and at the time United States Representative John Sweeney, Elizabeth Benjamin posted in her Times Union blog that Geppetto’s is “a Schenectady bar on Nott Street popular with Union College students.”
Though Geppetto’s noted popularity with Union does not necessarily connect it with underage drinking, in the coverage of similar underage incidents involving three area bars back in 2005, the Concordiensis reported that “students who may not have been of legal drinking age at Geppetto’s were encouraged to leave by the owner.”
Like the police operation in 2005, the SLA suggests that this will not be an isolated incident. In the release, the SLA restates Chairman Dennis Rosen’s announcement that “cracking down on underage sales is a priority and the SLA will not hesitate in taking emergency action against bars that cater to minors.”
“We will continue working with the Schenectady Police and our partners in law enforcement across the state to hold licensees accountable,” he continued.
Rumors circulating on campus suggest that other bars, liquor stores and convenience stores surrounding Union’s campus will be under particularly careful surveillance.
If this does occur, perhaps Barnes’s claims that “Union will never be the same” could, in fact, prove to be true.