By Beth Treffeisen
Paga Inc., that oversees a number of the nightclubs in the Theatre District, has been struggling to ware off underage drinking violations for years.
At Venu Nightclub, one of five clubs owned by Paga Inc., there are five violations for underage drinking dating back to 2013 that have been issued by both the Boston Licensing Commission and the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Commission (ABCC).
A previous incident this past September involved a seven-day suspension when underage drinkers where found in a back-to-school “champagne war” that involved having patrons spray each other with cheap bottles of champagne.
This time, a 19-year-old Babson student snuck herself in during the early hours of Friday, March 9, 2017 to Nick’s Venue located at 100 Warrenton Street. She was caught by a police officer doing a routine check about to take a shot of tequila.
The student got through the door using a fake drivers license from India, a bankcard with Nigerian identification and a copy of a photo-shopped passport from the United Kingdom that switched the year of her birth from 1997 to 1994.
This served as the tipping point for the Boston Licensing Commission.
During a two-part hearing held Tuesday, May 2, Paga Inc., was summoned to discuss both the incident on March 4, and the frequency of licensed premise violations and incidents requiring police involvement to determine if closing hours should be reduced or other actions shall be taken.
Board Chair Christine Pulgini agreed to grant Paga Inc., ten days to come up with a plan to mitigate the ongoing problems.
“There are other places across the City that deal with this problem too but no other place has this number of violations,” said BPD Sgt. Det. Robert Mulvey.
He acknowledged that this club appeals to a college-aged, younger crowd that sometimes asks for entry using foreign identification that can be unfamiliar to door staff, which is causing problems throughout the hospitality business in the City.
The Manager William Robertson said that each night the club turns away numerous students, sometimes close to a hundred.
He said that sometimes people show their false I.D., and it is taken away by the door staff, and then they go to the back of the line and try again with another false I.D. Other times, patrons taunt the door staff by texting them that they have gotten into another nearby club.
“There are so many foreign students from so many different places it makes it difficult,” said Robertson. “It’s a constant battle and we are doing the best we can.”
Shahrokh Reza the co-owner of the club said that there is about 70 percent international clientele coming in and a lot don’t have the proper back-up I.D.’s to enter.
“People can get very creative when they’re trying to get into a place,” said Pulgini. “That’s your risk if you take those I.D.’s.”
Co-owner Felix Paige of Paga Inc. said that these clubs have been around for 40 years and the technology has made it easy to manipulate fake I.D.’s.
“The only thing that has changed is now the kids can come in with [good fake I.D.’s], that even Jesus Christ can’t tell the difference,” said Paige.
Currently, Paga Inc., pays $6,500 a month towards covering volunteer overtime Boston cops to patrol the Theatre District during closing time on weekends. Reza said that their security guards also help with crowd control from patrons leaving from the other nearby clubs, but Paga Inc., is the only organization that contributes to the extra policing.
Reza said he has tried to no success to get other nearby clubs to contribute as well.
Sometimes A-1 has to assign regular patrol cops to the area, which Mulvey said, takes away coverage from the rapidly growing residential streets downtown.
“What we would like to see is self-policing nightclubs that don’t require babysitting by the Boston Police – they exist and they work,” said Mulvey.
In addition, he said the bottle service contributes to the to the bad behavior of patrons at closing time that requires police attention. Mulvey said that might warrant a review of the current license.
Paga Inc. also oversees Cure Lounge, Abby Lane, Trattoria Newbury and Icon Nightclub. Overall Paga Inc employees about 150 people both full-time and part-time.
Icon Nightclub has also been hit with numerous violations. Last June, the board ordered the club to be shut down for a year after a Tufts student fell to his death at a nearby parking garage after drinking at the club.
In January, the board ordered Icon Nightclub to close after it was issued five outstanding violations for underage drinking.
Both, Icon Nightclub and Venu have remained open as the owners appeal the suspension orders with the ABCC.
The Boston Commission Board will vote on the underage drinking of the Babson student this upcoming Thursday, but will wait to hear the plan from Paga Inc. on how they will deal with the ongoing issues down Warrenton Street.
“We didn’t want to do this but we want the area to be a safe area,” said Pulgini.