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SLA sanctions bar, unaware owner died

The State Liquor Authority spent most of December building a case to pull the liquor license for P.J. Bottoms, the University Heights bar in frequent trouble for underage drinking.

After filing charges against P.J. Bottoms in early December for holding a ski club party in a city-owned parking lot, and then raiding the bar a week later with State Police, the liquor authority's three commissioners voted Dec. 21 to cancel P.J. Bottoms' liquor license as of Jan. 5.

They took the action, they said, because Anthony Harris, who holds the P.J. Bottoms liquor license, failed to answer their charges.

There was a good reason. Harris died Dec. 10.

The 34-year-old Buffalo man took his own life that night, shooting himself outside a residence on Union Road, Amherst police said.

But the death of Harris, the only director of P.J. Bottoms Inc. and holder of its liquor license, did not stop business in the bar at 3270 Main St.

The bar remained open for almost two weeks after he died and before the cancellation vote by the SLA commissioners.

Who was running the bar?

Michael Monile, the building owner and previous license holder, could not be reached to comment. Ralph C. Lorigo, Monile's attorney, did not return telephone calls for comment.

The SLA didn't know Harris died until The Buffalo News informed the agency Wednesday. The News had been unable to contact Harris, and a family member notified a reporter of his death.

Asked whether it was legal for P.J. Bottoms to remain open after its license holder and the only director and officer in its corporation died, Kimberly Morella, an SLA spokeswoman said:

"To date, the corporation has not informed the State Liquor Authority of the death of its sole principal. Currently the corporation is still the licensee until January 5th, which is when the licensee's cancellation will take effect. The State Liquor Authority will review whether any action needs to be taken prior to the effective date of the cancellation."

On Thursday, Ms. Morella said an attorney, whom she declined to identify, sent a letter to the SLA, telling the agency of Harris' death.

Harris took over from Monile as the P.J. Bottoms license-holder in June, after the bar served a 30-day suspension and paid a $10,000 fine for serving minors.

In his license application filed with the SLA, Harris said that Monile was his landlord and that the previous licensee was Monile's MJM Royal Inc.

Harris also said in the application that he was leasing the bar for seven years. He said there was no arrangement for Monile to take a percentage of the business.

The new liquor license meant that the numerous violations brought against P.J. Bottoms since Monile bought the bar -- paying $190,000 in 1997 for the building -- were wiped clean.

That record, under Monile's MJM Royal Inc., shows P.J. Bottoms paid $23,000 in fines, served two 30-day suspensions and received 11 written warnings, nearly all for serving underage drinkers. Another charge stemmed from serving liquor from bottles contaminated with insects and mislabeling beer taps.

SLA investigators, in reports obtained by The News under a Freedom of Information request, called P.J. Bottoms the worst bar in the city for underaged drinking and told of dozens of minors running from the bar in one raid. The bartender fled in another.

Each of the charges could have resulted in the revocation of the bar's liquor license.

SLA commissioners, instead, voted to fine the bar or give it temporary suspensions. Since the bar opened in 1982, there have been four license holders, each starting with a fresh, unblemished record.

Harris started that way in June when he became the new licensee.

That ended Dec. 8, when the SLA charged P.J. Bottoms Inc. and Harris with failing to tell the liquor authority that an Oct. 15 party for a college ski club was held on city property, a parking lot behind the bar at 3270 Main St.

On Dec. 15, SLA investigators and State Police raided P.J. Bottoms, as well as Molly's Pub at 3199 Main, and charged three bartenders and 20 underaged patrons at both bars.

The SLA has not yet filed charges against P.J. Bottoms from the raid, as it has against Molly's Pub. The commissioners voted an emergency suspension of the license for Molly's Pub.

Morella declined to say whether the agency will charge P.J. Bottoms as well from that raid.

The event that got P.J. Bottoms in its most recent trouble was the October party the bar put on for the Buffalo Schussmeisters, a ski club at the University at Buffalo.

Those who went to the party said P.J. Bottoms set up a huge tent in the parking lot behind the restaurant. They said hundreds attended.

"Thanks to everyone who attended this year's Blizzard Bash," the club's Web site reported on the party. "We had one of our best turnouts ever!!! We kicked 120 kegs with no problem, and had to buy more!!!"

A keg, actually a half-keg, contains 15.5 gallons of beer, so the party went through at least 1,860 gallons of beer, or nearly 20,000, 12 ounce glasses.

In the Dec. 8 charges, the SLA said P.J. Bottoms and Harris failed to note on its license application for the outside party that it would be held on city property.

John P. Hannon, the city's director of real estate, said the parking lot behind the bar is a city-owned lot, and said the bar would have had to apply for a permit with his office.

Hannon checked his records on Friday and said there was no application or permit issued.

e-mail: mbeebe@buffnews.com

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