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Licensing Board Withdraws Rusty Anchor's Serving Permit
By Jack Guerino, iBerkshires Staff
07:15PM / Saturday, July 11, 2020
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The License Board voted narrowly to withdraw its permission for the club on Pontoosuc Lake to sell wine and beer on its deck.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Licensing Board made an about-face and voted 3-2 to rescind the Rusty Anchor's temporary extension of the premise.
 
The licensing board held a special meeting Wednesday to rescind an Extension of Premise to Patio and Outdoor Dining Areas permit awarded to the Rusty Anchor that allowed the private club to serve alcohol.
 
"The Rusty Anchor is a private club with a seasonal beer and wine license. Period," Chairman Thomas Campoli said. "It does not have seated food service, it does not have a kitchen, it does not prepare food on-site, and it does not have that retail food permit issued by the city."
 
Last month, the licensing board narrowly approved the Rusty Anchor's request to extend their beer and wine service to its patio under Gov. Charlie Baker's order allowing outdoor dining,
 
The vote was 3-2 with only members Kathleen Amuso and Campoli voting in the negative. They questioned the legality of the motion because according to the governor's order only restaurants can apply for this outdoor extension. Bars and dance/entertainment venues continue to be closed during the pandemic.
 
Campoli cited a communication from the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission stating the license was in violation of the governor's order and the city solicitor and director of public health, who were also on the call, shared the concern.
 
Attorney Darren Lee, representing the Rusty Anchor owner Scott Graves, said it was accurate that the establishment was not a restaurant. He said the private club did not want to be restaurant and never claimed to be one.
 
He went on to say the Rusty Anchor is unique and is closer to a beer garden that can serve outdoors per the governor's order.
 
He doubled down and said the establishment is probably even safer than a restaurant. No one is allowed inside and drinks would be served through a window.
 
"Other restaurants have made beer gardens, they have made what the Rusty Anchor has," he said. "We have outdoor seating and restaurants are spending thousands to build what we already have ... isn't it safer with no food service?" 
 
Board member Richard Stockwell agreed and felt the Rusty Anchor was more akin to a beer garden and should be allowed to hold on to its license.
 
He went on to say he felt the governor allowed communities some "wiggle" room and was in support of finding ways to help struggling businesses.
 
"There are a lot of restaurants and business in Pittsfield  that will not open again and we are talking about people's livelihoods," he said. "One thing I took away from the governor was that he has asked cities and towns to help people that need help and I think this is a very unique situation."
 
Lee felt the same way and that it was the board's responsibility.
 
"We have five really smart people who cannot define what this is and the reason we have a local board is for local discretion," he said. "To apply common sense and to allow things that are good and healthy for our community. That is why we are here."
 
Campoli said he understood Lee's point and agreed that the Rusty Anchor may be similar to a beer garden but noted under the governor's order, allowing the Rusty Anchor to serve is illegal. He said they cannot pretend the law does not exist.
 
"It is not just the letter of the law we are talking about here because it is clear ... there is a policy reason here," he said. "Bars should not open across the Commonwealth I can not like that or I can like that. The policy is that it is bad for public health and there are states...that decided to open up to bars and now there are these spikes." 
 
City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta said the governor has banned public gatherings and as things open up through the phases exceptions have been made. Currently, only restaurants that prepare food and have sit-down service can apply for these permits. 
 
He used the example of golf courses: only courses with these food permits can serve alcohol. Those without sit-down restaurants cannot serve.
 
As for beer gardens, Pagnotta said these are one-day permits that can be applied for. Those who have a seasonal alcohol license, like a bar and the Rusty Anchor, cannot legally apply for one.
 
Under the governor's order, beer gardens are allowed but food must be served. Food trucks are allowed but they must remain on-site during all hours of operations.
 
Also only breweries, wineries, and distilleries have been allowed this privilege. 
 
"It may not be a fair rule under the applicants circumstance but those are what the rules are," he said. "... It is just not permitted under the order. They may change over time."
 
The city clerk added that the ABCC has shut down and fined establishments in violation.
 
Graves reiterated how unique the Rusty Anchor is. He said it provides an asset to those enjoying the lake. They use the deck, eat lunch or dinner, drink a beer and are back off on their boat.
 
 He said it is not a bar.
 
"Outdoor activities that is what people come here for. They are not coming here for a bar because that is not what we really are," he said. "They have a code to get onto the deck and they can bring their own alcohol and food. They have lunch and a drink and then go out on their boat. We want people to come in an cycle out."
 
Graves added that patrons will still bring their own drinks to the deck and he would like to be able to serve them and oversee it.
 
There was a question if it was even legal for club members to bring alcohol to the deck.
 
Board member Dina Guiel Lampiasi, who originally voted for the permit, had a change of heart and said in her mind the Rusty Anchor is trying to open up the bar aspect of its business which is not allowed under the current order.
 
She said bars are not allowed in the current phase and if allowed at the Rusty Anchor, people would be allowed to congregate on the deck and be free to walk around the deck to order drinks. 
 
She said the board needed to be fair to other establishments and protect public health.
 
"We are doing really well with our numbers here and quite frankly we are getting to the point that some are forgetting that we are in a pandemic," she said. "But there are hospitals in the country that are at capacity and people are dying. We have to stay vigilant here and we cant bend the rules for one group."
 
Health department officials offered their opinion that the Rusty Anchor is in violation and they will issue fines if it continues to serve.
 
In fact, the department issued a $300 fine in between meetings for holding live entertainment.
 
Graves said one of the members was playing a guitar on the deck. He said he did not pay this person or ask them to play. He said he would not allow this in the future.
 
Campoli said there are avenues for Graves to appeal this fine if he so chooses.
 
Only board members Dennis Powell and Stockwell voted against rescinding the permit.
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