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Who’s On First bar faces another hearing before licensing board

The bar Who's On First? on Yawkey Way, across from Fenway Park where Jephthe Chery was shot by a stray bullet early Thanksgiving day. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/Globe Staff

Since 2001, the owner of the Who’s On First bar has appeared before the city’s Licensing Board at least eight times to address public safety concerns that included assaults, shootings, and stabbings inside and outside the bar, city records show. The board moved to suspend the owner’s license three times for incidents of violence, once for up to four days.

Jephthe CheryFamily photo

But problems have continued to erupt at the popular Fenway bar, which will once again appear before the Licensing Board on Friday following the shooting death of 29-year-old Jephthe Chery just outside its doors early Thanksgiving morning.

“Why is the place not shut down?” said Lauren Dewey Platt, president of the Fenway Community Center’s Board of Directors. “How many more lives is it going to take? Is it two, three or ten?”

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Bars and clubs are rarely permanently shuttered in Boston, according to a Globe review. A total of 8,444 violations were lodged against establishments overseen by the Licensing Board between 2005 and 2014, resulting in 27 license revocations, according to board data.

The board could not specify whether these were licenses for bars or clubs, or for other businesses they regulate, which include fortune tellers and lodging establishments

The board was unable to say when it last ordered a bar or club to close. But a Globe review of news reports and city records showed that the Licensing Board has from time to time taken action against bars that have encountered problems.

In 2006, the Waltham Tavern was ordered to close immediately and its license was revoked after drugs were purchased from employees there on six different occasions. In 2013, the board rejected Felt Boston’s application for a license renewal after the downtown nightclub had run into trouble for failing to report two assaults and a series of other offenses.

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Other bars have also run into trouble, but have been allowed to remain in operation.

The board called in the owner of Roggie’s Brew and Grille for a hearing this summer after a man suffered life-threatening injuries there last year. The Brighton sports bar was allowed to stay open under new management and a new name. The owner on Wednesday pleaded guilty to charges that he misled police and intimidated witnesses.

Police Commissioner William B. Evans has said Who’s On First has long been a nuisance, extending back to when he was the captain in District D4, which includes Fenway. He said officers tried meeting with management in the past to discuss security concerns.

“We’d like the Licensing Board to take a look at it and do what’s best for the community and best for police,” said the Boston Police spokeswoman, Officer Rachel McGuire. “It’s a bit frustrating when it happens time and time again.”

Robert Paratore, owner of Who’s On First, and his attorney, Jack Diamond, did not return calls seeking comment.

“They should close it . . . If they closed it before, my son would not have died,” said Chery’s mother, Rose Relise Chery, who plans to attend Friday’s hearing. “I don’t want another mom to have the same pain I have now.”

Who’s On First has generated at least 43 violations since 1991 for serving alcohol to minors and violent incidents including three this year for shots fired, according to Licensing Board records and police. Of the violations it generated, 12 resulted in warnings and a dozen resulted in suspensions.

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In 2011, three people were stabbed and officers were injured during an attack at the bar, according to Licensing Board records. Police said then that the staff was not helpful. In September, two women were shot outside the bar. In both cases the board determined the bar did not violate the terms of its liquor license.

Boston Police stood outside Who’s On First after Jephthe Chery was fatally shot overnight. Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

The Licensing Board, a three-member panel now appointed by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, declined to comment, or explain under what circumstances a bar or club could be ordered to close its doors for good.

Christine Pulgini, chairwoman of the board, withheld comment until after the Friday hearing.

Walsh declined to take a position on the issue. A spokeswoman for the mayor said only that he believes bars have a right to a hearing and to make their case.

Former board chairman Daniel Pokaski, who led the Licensing Board between 1994 and 2009, said that under his leadership, the board tried to work with the owners.

“A lot of people depend on an establishment . . . waitresses, cooks . . .,” he said. “People are depending on [it for] money for rent and school.”

Pokaski said the board, which before last year was controlled by the state, practiced “progressive discipline” when it came to minor offenses like serving alcohol to a minor or serving alcohol after 2 a.m. An owner would receive a warning following the first violation; a second offense was grounds for suspension.

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“But something so severe as a shooting or stabbing, we step right in,” Pokaski said, noting those more serious offenses could result in a license being revoked.

“When the licensee just doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand the seriousness of it – that’s what really gets the board upset,” Pokaski said. “It really is using common sense. You close them down and say, ‘that’s it.’”

Pokaski said the board has met with Who’s On First and had discussions with management when he was on the panel.

A common problem, he said, was that incidents often happened when an owner would turn the club or bar over to promoters.

Police have said that there was a private party at Who’s On First the morning Chery, a train conductor, was killed. Chery had stopped into the bar to say hello to a friend, according to another friend.

Still, McGuire said it is the bar owner’s responsibility to vet the promoters.

When the two women were shot outside Who’s On First in September, a promoted event had begun at 10 p.m, according to a tape of an Oct. 6 hearing on the episode provided by the Licensing Board.

Fr. Gustave Miracle (left) of St Angela’s Church (Parish) in Mattapan, visited Jephthe Chery’s family. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Paratore told the board that there was no issue at the bar the entire night and that he did not know a shooting had occurred until police cited him. He said the two women had been heading toward the bar to find out from partygoers where an after-party was being held.

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Paratore told the board he is in constant contact with police and has canceled dozens of events in the last year or two after learning from police that people they were tracking were planning to attend a party at the bar.

“We don’t want that element in the neighborhood,” Paratore told the panel in October.

Whenever an incident occurs, either inside or outside a bar, the board must determine if the owner is truly at fault, Pokaski said.

In 2009, the board determined that the staff of the 33 Restaurant & Lounge in the Back Bay had done everything it could to try to prevent the escalation of the argument that ultimately led to the fatal beating of 22-year-old Jose Alicea outside the restaurant, 25 minutes after it closed.

“They tried to defuse the situation when it got out of hand; they immediately called the police,’’ Pokaski told the Globe in 2009. “If someone comes in dressed nicely . . . and they hang around for a couple of hours, having a good time, not misbehaving — how can you hold a licensee responsible? I just don’t see it.’’


Jan Ransom can be reached at jan.ransom@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Jan_Ransom.