One year old, Spats fights to serve liquor late

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Last April, Spats Restaurant opened at 182 Angell St. after months of opposition from the College Hill Neighborhood Association to its application for a liquor license. Though Spats was then granted a Class BX liquor license, which allows the establishment to serve alcohol until 2 a.m., a coalition composed of CHNA, the University and several property owners is appealing that decision by the City of Providence Board of Licenses. The group hopes to force Spats to stop serving alcohol at midnight.

While applying for the license, Spats co-owner Andy Mitrelis argued that Spats is “100 percent restaurant with a small bar.” Spats’ bar has fewer than ten stools, out of almost 80 seats in the establishment.

Opponents of Spats’ Class BX liquor license disagree that Spats can reasonably be called a restaurant. Although Mitrelis said the kitchen closes at 10:30 p.m., the bar continues to serve alcohol until 2 a.m. The period after the kitchen closes has become a key part of the appellants’ case against Spats.

“Our basic policy is not to oppose every new liquor license on Thayer Street as long as the license is part of a fully functioning restaurant. We did not oppose (Spats’) original liquor license application because our understanding was that this would be a full-fledged restaurant,” said Michael Chapman, Brown’s vice president for public affairs and University relations. “That they are closing the kitchen before 2 a.m. leads to our understanding that this was a bar and so we joined … the appeal.”

CHNA President Chris Tompkins denied comment on “this pending regulatory matter” in an e-mail to The Herald beyond verifying that CHNA, Brown and several abutting property owners are currently challenging the license.

Barbara Harris, a former CHNA president who lives off of Thayer Street on Bowen Street, said the appeal is motivated by a desire to fix the problem of “too many liquor licenses and too late a closing time on Thayer Street. They all want 2 a.m. and when they all close down it causes some noise … and mayhem.”

Eric Chaika, owner of the Red Carpet Smoke Shop on Waterman Street, is one of the parties to the current appeal. “When you have a lot of liquor licenses, you get a lot of the things that go along with liquor (including) vandalism and rowdyism. I don’t want to deny anyone the opportunity to have a business … but the proliferation of 2 a.m. licenses changes the character of the neighborhood.”

Mitrelis, who also owns Paragon and Andreas’ on Thayer Street, said his experience on Thayer from the beginning of the licensing battle is a guarantee that he has the neighborhood’s interest in mind. “I have more at stake on Thayer Street than anyone else on the East Side,” he said.

“Some of (the CHNA members) are expressing themselves with the intelligence of a second grader, the way they were trying to approach their problem,” Mitrelis said. “They get a kick out of trying to control the businesses on Thayer Street, but they think they are doing the right thing,” he said.

“I’m pretty sure the decision will come in my favor,” he added.

Though Lt. Paul Campbell, commanding officer of the Providence Police 9th District substation, opposed Spats’ liquor license application last year, he hasn’t taken a stand on the current appeal.

“If they closed at 12 a.m., that would be roughly 80 less people coming onto Thayer Street at 2 a.m., and from a policing standpoint that’s always a good thing,” Campbell said.

But Campbell said he has been satisfied with Spats’ management since last year’s opening. “Up to this point they have been a pretty good neighbor, police-wise,” he said.

In the last year, there have been two police reports filed regarding Spats, Campbell said. On May 6, 2006, a Brown student claimed he was assaulted inside the restaurant, but the police didn’t find anyone matching the victim’s description when they went inside.

The only other incidence occurred five days later, on May 11, 2006, when two Brown students were arrested for underage drinking.

“We run a tight ship here – we watch who’s coming in,” Mitrelis said, referring to underage drinking. Nevertheless, he said, “There will always be someone trying to get in underage. It’s a continuous struggle. But let me tell you, they are not going to get in just by being good-looking or something.”