Shuttered Papasito Rallies Against NYPD Treatment

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Last Thursday, over 100 people rallied at One Police Plaza to protest what they say is unfair treatment by the NYPD of Hispanic-owned small businesses, spurred by the recent shuttering of Papasito Mexican Grill and Agave Bar on the Upper West Side.

Last Friday, police shut down the restaurant, which has been the subject of many neighborhood complaints for hosting loud, boisterous crowds late into the night in a largely residential area, for selling alcohol to minors. But the manager of Papasito and employees of other restaurants rallied at police headquarters to proclaim against the methods and timing of that shutdown, which they called unnecessary, unfair and excessive.

Fernando Mateo, a spokesperson for the Northern Manhattan Restaurant and Lounge Association who has defended Papasito at community board meetings, was the event's main speaker.

"We want to save our businesses from the monster here behind me," he said, shouting into a megaphone that nearby officers warily allowed him to use and indicating the offices of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. "'Padlock Kelly' has made sure that our businesses get padlocked and that all of you are unemployed, simply because there's very little communication."

Manuel Melchor, a manager at Papasito who was working when the cops closed the restaurant down on Friday, said he wants the NYPD to inform him when one of his staff members illegally serves alcohol to a minor, issuing a violation on the spot so he can properly deal with the infraction instead of waiting for a surprise raid.

Melchor said that he has capitulated to local demands like cutting down on music and closing at 2 a.m. instead of 4 a.m. "Last week, the police come in, like 15 people-15 officers in uniforms and jackets."

The police ordered the kitchen closed in the middle of the dinner service, escorted everyone out of the restaurant and closed it down. Melchor said that since it happened on a Friday and they could not get to court until Monday, the restaurant lost a weekend's worth of revenue and staff lost valuable shifts. The NYPD did not respond to questions for this article.

State Sen. Eric Adams, who represents a district in Brooklyn, also spoke at the rally, emphasizing what he says are the differences in how businesses are treated in different parts of the city. He claimed the NYPD would never padlock a downtown hotspot.

"If you don't do it on Park Avenue, you shouldn't do it on Park Avenue in the Bronx. If you don't do it in Midtown, you shouldn't do it in Washington Heights," Adams said.

The State Liquor Authority (SLA) confirmed that they are currently considering how to handle three separate violations of the Alcoholic Beverage Control law that occurred at Papasito late last year, and that they warned the establishment in January of this year about maintaining a "disorderly premises" and being a "focal point for police." Last year, Papasito paid $2,500 in civil penalties to the SLA for unlicensed use of their sidewalk space and improper naming conventions, but spokesperson William Crowley said that those are relatively minor offenses.

Crowley said that the infractions involving serving alcohol to minors will be looked at on a case-by-case basis, and that while that type of violation could be enough to warrant a suspension or revocation of a liquor license, the SLA will consider all the circumstances before making that decision.

"There's a difference between going to a place where it's 50 percent minors," and those that regularly check ID and may have been tricked by particularly good fakes or by kids using an older sibling's real ID, Crowley said.

Community Board 7 will hold a public hearing on Papasito's liquor license renewal application March 14.

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