Port Jefferson Eyes Earlier Closing Times for Bars Amid Crime, Ruckus

State law would give the village the power to regulate.

A new piece of legislation being proposed in the state Senate that would allow villages to enforce early pub closing times is said to be one option to help Port Jefferson with its troubles downtown on weekend nights. But not everyone agrees, and instead favor greater police presence and active enforcement of village code to deter quality of life infractions and crime.

Although Suffolk police say that they are during peak times, residents are still concerned about the unruly crowds and want more to be done or else the village will go downhill fast.

“It’s bad,” admitted Mayor Margot Garant at a village board meeting on Monday evening.

Port Jefferson has changed over the years. It’s for tourists attracted to the beautiful views of the Long Island Sound, boutique shops, restaurants and its nightlife.

Some say that the late night visitors are the ones who make a mockery of the village’s provincial codes and bring up quality of life issues like public drunkenness, yelling, cursing, vandalism, littering and urinating in public.

“It’s the bars,” said Sandra Swenk at Monday’s village board meeting.

Swenk – a 52-year resident of the village who once served as Mayor – said that when she moved to Port Jefferson there were a lot less bars and saw a dramatic increase in their number in the last 20 years or so. The result, she said, is more people wandering around the village and residential areas where they park to avoid the metered lots doing things they shouldn’t.

Many locals say that they want their village back.

“We don’t want to feel like an armed camp,” resident Marge McCuen, said to a Suffolk Police officer at the meeting. “It’s good you’re here. I’m sorry it has to happen.”

Resident Lauren Hubbard said she’s ready to “throw up her hands” at what she sees.

“Beer bottles, drunk people parking on side streets,” she said of the crowd that invades the village every weekend.

Recently, New York State Senator Ken LaValle rode along with village Chief Constable Wally Tomaszewski and Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke to see what happens in Port Jefferson after dark.

“I think it was a real eye-opener,” LaValle told Patch in a recent phone conversation.

Besides touring parts of Port Jefferson Station and Upper Port, they spent some time downtown.

LaValle said that Chief Burke has the village on his radar now and with added police presence he thinks things will start to change.

“I’ll leave it to the authorities to develop their strategies to bring some order to make sure Port Jefferson maintains its village friendly atmosphere,” the senator said.

“It’s really unusual to have a state Senator do a ride along with your chief,” said Tomaszewski, highlighting the seriousness of the problem.

Village officials also brought up a new piece of legislation being proposed to allow villages throughout New York State to adopt local ordinances to close bars at 2 a.m.

The legislation was an idea generated in 2009 and prior Port Jefferson village officials had discussed it with the senator. According to LaValle, the legislation was put on the calendar this year but the Senate ran out of time to address it in the last session.

While some residents and officials might be behind this particular piece of legislation, others are not so quick to back it up.

“If all of New York State went along with it, I’d be all for it,” said Tommy Schafer, owner of two downtown establishments – and ­– and a member of the village’s Business Improvement District.

Schafer said that the law was a good idea but only if it was statewide. If only Port Jefferson village enforced the early closing time then all it would do is put local places out of business as patrons went elsewhere. He also said that he might take it up in court if the law passed.

“I don’t know if it would be grounds but I think a high percentage of the food and beverage industry would bring an immediate class action lawsuit,” he said.

Schafer said the solution to the problem is not closing the bars earlier, it's stopping the loitering by underage kids who don’t go into the bars having their own “parking lot parties” or people who engage what he calls “pre-gaming” before heading into the local pubs.

Code Chief Tomaszewski brought up the issue of “pre-gaming” at the last village board meeting and said it’s when people who go out on the town start drinking in their vehicles to avoid paying for more expensive drinks inside the bar.

Schafer said that stopping people from loitering in the parking lots would be the first place to start cleaning up the problem.

One difficulty that the village encounters is that code officers have no jurisdiction in the Brookhaven Town lots so people move over there to do their “pre-gaming.” Increasing Suffolk County Police presence can help with that problem as well as an agreement between Brookhaven and Port Jefferson for code officers to enforce those lots, according to Tomaszewski.

Police assured the community that they will see a greater presence with Suffolk’s COPE officers patrolling the village to enforce laws and deter people.

On the early-closing law, Schafer said he would welcome it if it was enforced across the board saying he’d also like to get home earlier after work.

“I’d be the happiest guy in the world,” he said.

LaValle brought up a bit of wisdom imparted on him when he was younger when discussing the legislation.

“My mother would remind us that nothing good happens after two o’clock in the morning,” he said.

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knowitall August 09, 2012 at 01:22 AM
Our police and village constables are being tasked with acting like a private security force for these bars' unruly patrons. We should send the worst offenders (the businesses) a bill for the officers time. The officers, regrettably, are being tasked with baysitting for unruly bar patrons when they could be better deployed.
Mels Ditties August 09, 2012 at 01:56 AM
“It’s bad,” admitted Mayor Margot Garant.... NOW that there's trouble DOWNTOWN the Mayor & company are all upset....Calling in extra police patrols, driving Senator LaValle around, looking to close bars earlier... WHERE THE HECK HAVE YOU BEEN ALL THESE YEARS???? Uptown has been rotting away...The Mayor and her board have been informed over and over ad nauseum, but nothing ever came of their empty promises...as a matter of fact, they have done LESS in the past 2-3 years than they were doing...Thinking that it's just uptown and didn't effect the beautiful downtown....Did ya really think it wasn't gonna trickle down main st?...Are you really surprized that you have problems now?...If it weren't for the fact that their solution (eg. close the bars earlier) will hurt the business owners downtown, I would laugh a hearty laugh...NOW you know how those of us uptown feel and why we've been crying out for help for all these years...Four more storefronts are about to become empty uptown...and you can thank Mayor Garant, Chief Wally & the rest of the PTB for the mess... Just be careful downtown folks/merchants that you stand up NOW and INSIST that something be done before you see you livelyhood shrivel up and die
Sandra Swenk August 09, 2012 at 12:29 PM
Lon, just a slight correction in my residency. I am actually a lifetime resident of the Village, but bought my home on Prospect Street with my husband 52 years ago. There is no question that downtown late night life due to the proliferation of bars and 4 am closing have had a tremendous impact on families and the residential areas surrounding the downtown businesses. I would certainly favor earlier bar closings and have suggested such action to various administrations, inlcuding the present one.
Bryan Rivera August 09, 2012 at 01:38 PM
knowitall, the village constables ARE a private security force. Their entire job is to enforce town codes...which includes managing unruly patrons of bars and restaurants. Calling for laws to fix the symptoms of problems is dangerous territory. How about instead of passing a law to shut down bars early, we work on enforcing the existing laws. Start with having a few officers poking their heads in bars and checking if all those college freshmen are really 27. Then maybe try to do something about loitering, like those guys that park their cars or bikes on Main St and just stand there ALL DAY. I hate the idea of meters on Main St, but if it stops that from happening it would sure be nice. I'm no policeman, but I'm pretty sure if I was told all the problems were happening after 2 AM, I'd make sure to have a police presence after 2 AM, not at 8 PM. By midnight I rarely see cops in town. In Connecticut the cops are the most visible at the end of the night. They literally run the streets from midnight to 3 AM, making sure crowds are kept in line and stopping drunk drivers. This happens in towns as well as cities.
Fred August 09, 2012 at 01:48 PM
the first thing someone see's when coming down port is up town, and how you can expect a young party goer or day trippers to respect a town that its own people neglect. While locals may be aware of the invisible boundary between the Lobster house and downtown everyone else is not. That being said, I think forcing bars to close early is a terrible idea. It would quickly force the bars out of business, and considering how many vacant shops I see in both up town and downtown, Port Jeff can't afford to turn business away.
ReeNee August 09, 2012 at 02:10 PM
Ok, so there was a problem last week in Port Jefferson village and the solution to that is bars closing early. Won't work! Well, well, why not take a look at the severe problems being had in Upper Port Jefferson Station where incidents such as crime, violence, drugs, drunks and homeless occur on a daily basis??? They are edging their way down to the village. You need to work on whats happening in Upper Port Jefferson, which to me is deemed unsafe for homeowner and patrons. There is another thread about this huge problem in the Patch.
Mels Ditties August 09, 2012 at 02:59 PM
The number of bars downtown hasn't drastically increased in the past few years...but the average age of the bar patrons has dropped from the 30-somethings to the young 20-somethings...Discussing this article/problem with my 22 yr old (eg. legal drinking age) he described downtown port as a "bar amusement park"...Groups of friends all meet downtown and hop from one bar to another "hey, I'm bored here, let's go to "fill in bar name"...."hey, have ya seen Joe tonight?, oh yeah, he's over at "fill in another bar name", let's go see if we can find him"....The close proximity of all of these establishments makes it easy & desirable to move thru town, drunk, rowdy and, at times, looking for a "bathroom" (I've seen Tara patrons walk out of the bar, urinate on the southeastern wall, walk back into the bar and repeat the same process 5 or more times a night and these are people NOT going from one place to another, just too lazy to wait on line inside the bar at their restroom... The "pre-gaming" is happening everywhere, but if people of any age are sitting in cars drinking that is ILLEGAL...Ticket these people, or at the very least police the parking lots and take the bottles away...As for the Brookhaven lot, I find it hard to believe that they would actually object to PJ Code poliicing their lots...Obviously (based on the new beach sticker fees) their budget is stretched to it's limits and that would be free monitoring of their lots....
Mels Ditties August 09, 2012 at 03:03 PM
In these horrific economic times, why punish the bar owners and force them to lose 2 hours or more (if customers start leaving for towns where bars stay open til 4)??? Change the hours of the PJ Codies, instead of them leaving at 2am, have them work until 4....Get SCPD down there during the biggest trouble times (as mentioned by a poster above)... Put your heads together, work with the enforcement you have and stop the problem, don't punish more business owners
Bryan Rivera August 09, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Mels, have you been in Tara's men's room? The parking lot is a marked improvement in smell, cleanliness and privacy. As for PJ being a "bar amusement park," that's no different than it was 20 years ago. And not dissimilar from Patchogue or Huntington. That's part of the draw of these towns, and why they were all named as some of the best places on LI for singles, and the best places to eat on LI.
Mels Ditties August 09, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Bryan, I hear ya, BUT walking outside, just barely behind the big bush on the driveway side of Tara's and urinating, where you can been seen by people walking and driving by is a bit crass, no? I get the lure of the "bar amusement park" (in my day we had to drive from bar to bar, uphill, in the snow, both ways..LOL!) just 'splainin' for those who may not be aware of why there are so many folks milling around during "park hours"
Bryan Rivera August 09, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Oh, I totally understand about the peeing in public. I was taking the opportunity to point out how gross the men's room at Tara's happens to be. If peeing on the sidewalks uptown would keep the population that hangs out on said sidewalks indoors, I'd invite the whole of Port Jeff to gather 'round and start peeing. However, I feel like the issue being addressed here is about downtown, not uptown (which we can all agree is a disaster). New laws don't sound like the answer when the existing laws aren't being enforced.
diamond August 09, 2012 at 09:30 PM
Dodge City is what Port Jeff Village is called. If you close the bars earlier the patrons will come out earlier and the same problems will happen earlier. Just look at Boston and other areas that close the bars earlier. What we need is real police presence not code. Let Suffolk county Police do their job like they do in the rest of the county. Time to do away with the mayor and her Board. They jam pack our village with non residents every weekend so the businesses can make more money and the residents wind up paying for it. If the Businesses all close it is not a problem The rundown Buildings downtown could be sold and nice residential areas could be developed in their place. The residents would not have to subsidize The commercial district and we would have a beautiful village just like Belle Terre .The village residents have to wake up go to meetings ask questions and stop subsidizing the commercial distreicts and code enforcement. Diamond
Mels Ditties August 10, 2012 at 03:43 AM
Bryan....ya think that might work?....Cause I'll be the 1st to stand in the middle of main st and do the deed if it would help!!!... I realize the article is about downtown, I just find it very frustrating that it's big news requiring new laws, and ride arounds and the mayor's admission that it's "bad" because it's downtown... As for closing the bars earlier, as I said before, why punish the business owners?...ENFORCE the laws we have and deal with it!
Mels Ditties August 10, 2012 at 03:48 AM
Diamond...Pls explain how the residents are subsidizing the commercial district?.... While your utopian plan of a seaside non-commercial residential only village sounds lovely, are ya gonna scream when there is are no businesses and the burden of all of the taxes needed to run the village come from the homeowners?...
William Hadley August 10, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Maybe we can get more of these bars to move to Upper Port and then the late nite drunks can compete with the local derelicts in a "Moron Olympics." (Not a joke, it just might work)
Pjll August 10, 2012 at 09:18 PM
There's been a lot of gang members from the Bronx and Brooklyn or Hunt Station who just walk off the train and stand around and sell drugs all day. It does a number on the luster of PJV.
Pjll2 August 10, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Left: Upper Port. Right: PJ residential neighborhood http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMiFmWPuvaQ That's why the PJ Board ignores that area because most of PJ is still in average condition.
crookhaven August 11, 2012 at 04:35 AM
how much alcohol did the bar serve the savage that did the stabbing on main street?? alcohol, prostitots and junkies abound!
greencap August 11, 2012 at 04:48 AM
Oh jesus crookhaven is here now. Patch was so good before the old cranky luddites learned about it. Now it will be the next city-data. Look wherever you have nightlife there are occasionally fights. I guess we should just ban bars. This would even happen in Rocky Point if there were anything to do there.
crookhaven August 12, 2012 at 05:08 AM
yeah! all bars have stabbings!! what night is gun night?? all bars have occasional shootings, too!! .............we don't need bars that attract and feed alcohol to lunatics with weapons. fistfights, sure. but ur silly to say slicing fellow patrons up is normal. this victim will prolly sue the bar and win!
KimP August 12, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Good comments and suggestions ! Everyone has a valid point however, I don't think closing bars early would change much. I think we as residents need to take matters into our hands, as well. An overall cleanup would help. I cringe at the filthy sidewalks and dirty empty storefronts... Why is it so disgusting? I know everyone says people urinate and all, but what are villages like Huntington, Northport even, Cold Spring Harbor and other's doing we are not? They have bars, they have late night spots, why are the streets cleaner? Our village, upper and lower, has the potential to be something fantastic? Where are we failing? Why is our Village so attractive to the element? How can we change that? These are the questions I am asking... Closing the business early won't help and tHose bikes that sit in those spots are worth BIG $$ and the bikers spend money! Don't be fooled by appearances. Lol. Why don't the bars have bouncers sitting out front like "college towns" do carding and keeping "smokers and others" in line? Why can someone urinate on the building? There should be more bouncers and maybe foot patrols at night? We need to come together as a community and work with what we have, to make it better. Study other communities to see what they do and assist our businesses to prosper. This way our Village can be a safe place to visit and a great place for upscale businesses.
G September 04, 2012 at 11:07 PM
I can barely get near Salsa Salsa to pick up my dinner without a cop hovering, ready to give me a ticket.How is THAT good for business?
diamond September 14, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Diamond Answer to Mels Ditties The amount of taxes that comes from all the commercial buildings in the Village of Port Jefferson is about $550,000.00 Of a budget of $ 9,500,000.00. That amount does not even cover the cost of the code officers. This is a prime example of why I recommend to attend village meetings, especially the yearly budget meeting so you can see how the village taxes are collected and spent. All village residents should attend meetings and ask questions before it is too late. Diamond
Susan Dasilva October 29, 2012 at 06:09 PM
Even our local high schoolers and parents with blinders are ignoring issues in the community. Thanks to all the high schoolers who left all their garbage from their limo bus on my driveway after homecoming... The garbage consist of a hero box, the leftover food and empty beer bottles.. And every weekend after their partying at whom Evers house, the parents are not home at for the night, they freely throw there garbage over the fence in the sump across from my house in the middle of the night. And as a resident for many years, are aware of these children drinking in the parking lots and in the local bars...furthermore as a commuter, I no longer take the port Jefferson train to the city and would rather drive the 1/2 hour to ronkonkoma because I do not feel safe to stand on the platform or walk from the train to the residential lot at night..there is slot of cleaning to be done to the area and our property values are also suffering from these issues and trash.. Local parents are just as responsible and should start taking control of their entitled, disrespectful children.


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