Council levies heavy penalties on Punto Final Hookah Bar

Council levies heavy penalties on Punto Final Hookah Bar

PAWTUCKET – City Council members, fed up with the lack of compliance on closing times by downtown establishments, made an example of the Punto Final Hookah Bar at 33 Summer St. last week, levying a series of penalties.

Councilor Tim Rudd, who made the recommendations because Punto Final is in his District 6, said it’s “time to start sending a message” to businesses that they can’t flout the rules and get away with it.

“I’ve had it. I have had it,” he said, saying other council members are also fed up.

Punto Final was fined, ordered to shut down for the weekend, told it must now hire a regular police detail, and had the hookah portion of its business suspended.

Rudd said he’s willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, but this has been an ongoing issue of downtown businesses disregarding closing times.

Sgt. David Medeiros recounted how he showed up at the hookah bar on March 14 and found the doors to be locked. When he got in, there were an estimated 40-50 patrons inside, he said, many at the bar drinking and several smoking hookah, which is currently not allowed under COVID-19 restrictions. The establishment was supposed to close at 1 a.m. with all patrons out no later than 1:20 a.m., he said, but people were still there at 1:30 a.m.

Medeiros said he waited several minutes after issuing the edict that the patrons had to clear out, but when he went back to the door, he again found it locked and had to knock several more times. He said patrons were still there and making no attempt to leave and that’s when police began yelling for people to leave. He said there was no explanation from bar manager and owner Basilio Francisco Peguero Arias on why people were smoking hookah. Patrons were finally out by 1:40 a.m.

Alex Peralta, head of security at the business, then gave an explanation of what happened that evening, but when he eventually revealed that he hadn’t actually been there, City Solicitor Frank Milos objected to him testifying about events that he had no firsthand knowledge of.

Peralta said he was speaking on behalf of Arias, who doesn’t speak English well.

Peralta said the business has never had any previous issues over four years. He said staff had to close the doors that day due to “constant issues” at Vibe Lounge across the street. Responding to the contention of Medeiros that no one left after the first visit, he said the staff has been having patrons leave out the back door to avoid what’s happening out front and to prevent others from coming in from Vibe.

Peralta said 50 people never could have fit into Punto Final, saying the maximum capacity is 35-38 people. As for the smoking hookah, he said Arias and his wife do some personal smoking after hours. On the late departure of patrons, he said it takes a while to get everyone paid up on their tabs and out of the building with everything going on across the street.

Whether there were 38 people or 50, said Milos, there shouldn’t have been anyone in Punto Final at that time. He said state law gives plenty of time to get patrons out.

Councilor Mark Wildenhain said there’s clearly an issue with the owners being able to get people out in a timely manner, so maybe instead of issuing a last call at 12:30 a.m., they should adjust and do that at 12:30 a.m.

Rudd agreed, saying adults should know that they are responsible for their own business and take ownership of their own mistakes.

Rudd, a police officer in Providence, said some of the testimony from Peralta made no sense, adding that perhaps the fact he wasn’t there that evening was why there were issues to begin with.

There is absolutely no smoking of hookah allowed right now, he said, and this situation just added to a scene in the downtown where fire codes are being violated, law enforcement is being disrespected and called liars, and safety is being compromised.

Based on the fact that the owners don’t seem to understand the hookah rules, Rudd recommended suspending that portion of the business. He also required a police detail every Thursday to Saturday, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., to be re-evaluated in 30 days.

Peralta questioned the 2 a.m. end, but councilors responded that this seems to be how long it’s been taking for the owners to get the property cleared.

Rudd also requested and received a vote to levy a $1,000 fine, to be paid within 30 days. The establishment was also prohibited from opening the rest of last week.

Councilor Elena Vasquez asked about the possibility of a joint detail with other establishments so the whole burden doesn’t fall on Punto Final, but other councilors said they don’t know how they would impose such a penalty.

Vasquez asked about Rudd’s indefinite suspension of hookah for a bar with hookah in its name as its primary business, so they’d have a “date in sight at least” once the state does allow it again, but Rudd declined to change it, saying the owners can reapply when the time comes and the board can make a decision at that point.

Peralta also disputed the use of the word “ongoing” to describe issues, saying Punto Final has had no other issues over four years and the punishment seems hard for a company that hasn’t had previous violations.

Rudd said that just because a violation doesn’t get written up doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.