Nightclub owner warned: ‘Don’t serve teens booze’
July 3, 2002
The owner of a Hyman Avenue nightclub received a scolding Tuesday for serving alcohol to underage patrons and was told to have a manager working at the bar at all times.
The Aspen Liquor Licensing Authority called William Venezia, owner of The Lava Room, in for a chat about the liquor-code violation, which occurred last February.
“You’ve had your warning. This is it,” cautioned board member Gary Esary.
“This is the ‘don’t do it again or you’re in deep trouble’,” agreed Bill Murphy, liquor board chairman.
A second violation could result in suspension or revocation of the nightclub’s liquor license, board members warned.
Venezia assured the board there won’t be another violation. The bartender who was on duty when the violation occurred is no longer employed at the nightclub, and staffers are well aware that they must check patrons’ identification, he said.
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“Everyone who works for me … knows their job is on the line for a similar offense,” Venezia said.
The bartender, John Shaughnessy Jr., and Venezia both pleaded guilty to the violation in Aspen Municipal Court and were fined $150. They were granted a deferred judgment, which means the charges will be dismissed if no further violations occur within six months.
“I’m not trying to pass the buck,” Venezia said. “I pleaded guilty to a crime even though I wasn’t even on the premises.”
That was part of the problem, board members agreed. Venezia is the designated manager for The Lava Room, but on the night in question he said he was spending much of his time at nearby Shooter’s, which he also owns. A party had drawn a large crowd at Shooter’s, while The Lava Room was nearly empty, he said.
On Feb. 1, while The Lava Room was staffed by the bartender and a disc jockey, two 15-year-old girls were apparently served alcohol there.
The teens were later arrested outside Shooter’s, where they had been stopped by the doorman. The girls told police they had been drinking at The Lava Room earlier in the evening. Two guys bought drinks for them at the nightclub, the girls said.
“What have you done to alleviate this from happening?” Murphy asked.
“It’s known amongst the kids, they can get into The Lava Room any night,” board member Stephen Goldenberg claimed. “I asked some young girls.”
Kids may boast that they’re getting in regularly, but that is not the case, Venezia responded.
“If I had a dollar for every person I’ve turned away, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.
The board instructed Venezia to appoint one or more staffers as managers at The Lava Room, so someone is in charge when he is not there. Managers must provide their criminal history before they are approved by the liquor board. They must also obtain additional training.
“The board’s position is, you need a manager at both places, all the time,” Esary said.
[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]