Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Another Round: Third Street Cafe back in court, this time to defend liquor license

Third Street Cafe, on the corner of N. 3rd and Calder streets in Midtown Harrisburg

After winning a lengthy fight with the city of Harrisburg to keep its business license, an embattled midtown bar is facing a new challenge in court.

It has to convince the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to renew its liquor license, despite allegations that it’s failed to uphold terms of a conditional agreement.

Third Street Café, which Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse deemed a “nuisance bar” and targeted for closure in 2015, is currently operating under an expired liquor license. A hearing held this morning will help the PLCB determine whether or not the establishment on N. 3rd and Calder streets will have its license renewed.

The hearing offered Anthony Paliometros, owner of Third Street Café, the chance to explain citations issued to the bar since 2016, two years after it entered a conditional licensing agreement with PLCB.

Among other provisions, that agreement required the bar’s staff to install new cameras, institute routine security patrols, and maintain a detailed security log and a list of banned patrons.

The terms of the agreement remain attached to Third Street’s liquor license until the PLCB decides to expunge them. The bar last renewed its license in 2016, but it faced a challenge when it sought another two-year renewal this year.

Since 2016, Pennsylvania State Police have cited the bar for failure to display its liquor license and furnish security records. It has also been the site of multiple police calls.

PLCB attorney Jessica Lathrop raised each of those points while making her case against the bar in today’s hearing, but Paliometros testified that circumstances surrounding those infractions have been rectified.

For instance, the liquor license that was previously obscured is now displayed prominently on the café wall under transparent glass, Paliometros said.

He also claimed that his staff had simply misplaced the bar’s security logs. Paliometros signed a waiver of citation after he could not produce records for the PLCB to prove that he had implemented routine security patrols.

Today, he admitted that signing that waiver was a mistake, since the security logs were later recovered. His attorney, James Petrascu, presented them as evidence in today’s hearing.

Lathrop spent most of the hearing interrogating the bar’s history of police action and its perceived lack of security. She called three former Harrisburg police officers as witnesses, all of whom testified about calls they received to the establishment since 2016.

One former officer, Kevin Ruff, responded to reports of a fight and shots fired at Third Street Café in June 2016. He testified that a man he believed to be the bar’s bouncer was visibly intoxicated.

State law prohibits servers and security personnel from drinking on the job. Paliometros testified that his security guard had not appeared intoxicated when he reported for work that night.

“If they come and they’ve been drinking, we send them home,” he said.

Ruff said that the alleged fight inside the bar had disbanded before he arrived. Officers found shell casings and one live round in the street one block east of the bar, but their investigation did not result in any arrests or charges.

Another officer testified that he recovered marijuana from a patron whom he arrested in the bar in 2017, when he was investigating a sighting of a wanted person.

Petrascu acknowledged that bar owners have responsibility “to a certain point” for the behavior of their patrons in and around their establishment. But he questioned whether his client could be held accountable for a patron’s drug possession.

He also objected to the testimony of Lathrop’s last witness, Alice Anne Schwab, director of the Susquehanna Art Museum.

SAM sits directly across the street from Third Street Café, and Schwab said she has seen “countless” visibly intoxicated patrons leave the establishment to urinate.

Petrascu said that Schwab’s testimony fell outside the scope of the specific inquiries raised by the PLCB. What’s more, he said, the witness could not prove that bartenders served the patrons once they became visibly intoxicated.

Hearing examiner Thomas Miller acknowledged that Schwab’s testimony drew them away from PLCB’s initial points of investigation.

“This is a thorny issue,” Miller said. “We’re definitely in a gray area here.”

Lathrop ultimately called Schwab as a rebuttal witness, since her testimony contradicted Paliometros’s claims that his bar does not serve visibly intoxicated patrons. Schwab claimed that drunken patrons would leave the bar with to-go beer and liquor, which the Third Street Cafe is licensed to sell.

The hearing concluded after almost four hours of testimony. Miller must now make a recommendation to the PLCB to either renew or revoke Third Street Cafe’s liquor license. He does not have a deadline to submit his opinion.

Petrascu, who previously served as a PLCB attorney, successfully represented Third Street Café when the owners faced a challenge to their license in 2014. After today’s hearing, he expressed confidence that this appeal would have the same outcome.

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