Concerns about bar owner spur denial of liquor license transfer

Staff Writer

SAYREVILLE — Police department concerns about the transfer of a liquor license to a local business owner who previously managed a “troubled” bar in town have led the Borough Council to nix the proposed transfer.

The license, which is considered “pocketed” and would need approval from the state Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) director before being utilized, was withheld after police department officials expressed trepidation about the intended recipient, Bryant Mitchell, who was a manager at the now-closed Red Zone bar and grill.

Last year, the Borough Council revoked the Red Zone’s liquor license due to “multiple incidents that required police intervention.”

“We referred approximately 18 charges against the establishment that night,” Lt. Timothy Brennan said at the July 27 meeting. “The night that he was manager of the establishment, we had numerous issues to the point where there was the revocation of … the Red Zone’s license.”

Capt. Jack Fitzsimmons also stated that the Red Zone required a significant amount of police attention, including a contribution to overtime hours.

“We don’t feel he’s a good candidate [for the license], so at this time I am objecting,” Fitzsimmons said.

Police Chief John Zebrowski echoed the other officers and asked that the Borough Council “deny the license upfront.”

Marguerite Schaffer, the borough’s recently appointed ABC attorney, implored the council to reject the transfer as well.

“This is not a right, it is a privilege,” she said, adding a concern during the Red Zone investigation was that management allegedly offered “misleading information” to investigators. “You have wide discretion here, and I suggest you exercise it.”

However, Paul DeSarno, a Sayrevillebased attorney representing Mitchell, said denying the transfer would be premature.

“He’s passed the background checks and he’s had no interest in the prior license,” DeSarno said. “This is never going to be cited at the Red Zone; The Red Zone will never reopen, and that’s not even before this panel right now.

“What’s before this panel is allowing this license to be transferred from a pocket status to Mr. Mitchell (to remain under pocket status),” he added. “If he wants to open it anywhere in Sayreville, he’s going to have to come back and make an application.”

According to DeSarno, denying the license would be “a drag on Mr. Mitchell and his business,” On the Snap Billiards, which is located next to the former site of the Red Zone.

The Borough Council chose to deny the transfer. Councilwoman Mary Novak abstained from the vote, while the rest of the council voted against the transfer.

Mayor Kennedy O’Brien said the borough has historically relied on the recommendation of the police department, stating, “It is not the job of the Sayreville police department to provide bar security.”

Asked whether he intended to appeal the decision to the state division of the ABC, Mitchell initially said he had no comment, but added, “We’ll do what we have to do.”