The Salem licensing board ordered the Bangkok Paradise on Washington Street to tone down its live entertainment after a hearing regarding unruly crowds over the last eight months that the board believes are the result of the establishment's nightclub atmosphere.
Salem Police Detective James Page prepared a report detailing 18 occasions in which officers have responded to the bar or to situations involving patrons of the bar between February 12 and October 1, including fights, large crowds gathering on the sidewalk, and allowing patrons to remain in the bar after last call.
Most recently, police broke up a fight involving roughly 50 patrons in front of the bar just before 1 a.m. on September 29, and on October 1 responded to Salem Hospital where a male party from Lynn reported being stabbed in the neck with an unknown object while exiting the establishment.
"I'm of the opinion that the entertainment, with these promoters drawing in these crowds, is leading to the licensee no longer being able to protect the employees, the patrons or members of the public, inside or outside the premises, from destructive conduct, criminal activity, and health, safety and fire hazards," Page said.
The board agreed that part of the problem is the entertainment schedule, specifically "Vibe Wednesdays," a weekly event that featuring live DJ's. On Monday, the board ordered that all entertainment and music, live or not, end at 11 p.m. for the next six months effective October 18.
But J.P. Story, the Salem-based attorney representing Bangkok Paradise and owner, Jesus Franco, took exception to the report prepared by Page, saying that most of the 18 calls were "benign." He cited incidents on the list such as one on September 26, in which police responded to a report of a large group out front causing a disturbance, and found nothing more than six males outside the building talking to each other.
"Any issue that causes the Salem Police Department to channel their resources to that establishment is not acceptable," said Robert St. Pierre, chairman of the licensing board.
Franco says he has already begun taking steps to remedy problems pointed out by the board, including hiring additional staff, training bouncers to swiftly move patrons out of the area at closing time and he is in the process of obtaining an ID scanner to prevent underage patrons from using fakes. He also no longer accepts out-of-state licenses as acceptable forms of ID, which he did prior to last week's meeting with the board. Franco took over the business in January.
"Mr. Franco is going to do everything that he can to create a fun, safe environment, for not only his patrons, but the larger community," Story said.
The board took particular issue with the number of people invited to live entertainment events at the establishment. According to Page, a Facebook page advertising a "Vibe" event for October 24-25 reveals 10,159 online invitations sent. The capacity at the bar is 150, and Story says that Franco and his employees always abide by the limit.
Another sticking point with the board is the contention that bringing in promoters and entertainers from outside of Salem or the immediate area attracts large crowds of questionable character from out of town - the type of people "we don't want in our city" in the words of board member Richard Lee.
"The people that are coming here are hostile, they're combative, they're fighting with police officers," Lee said. "The people being arrested are not local people."
Story countered that board members were drawing an unreasonable correlation between outside promotion and troublesome patrons, and also significantly downplayed the effect of social media on drawing large crowds. He likened Facebook invites to advertising in a newspaper.
He pointed out that of the 10,159 people who were invited to the event on October 24-25, most likely through a mass invite of everyone who "liked" or "followed" the page on Facebook, only 87 have confirmed through Facebook that they will be attending.
"10,000 people aren't going to show up to Salem to see what amounts to really a garage band," Story said. "It's not a dangerous thing...it's no different than advertising in a newspaper or something like that."
The board also continued a hearing from last week on a specific incident that occurred at Bangkok Paradise on the night of August 31 - September 1, in which four people were arrested for disorderly conduct after an alleged fight outside. One of those arrested, a 20-year-old girl from Brookline, stated that she had been served alcohol at the bar.
Story downplayed the girl's claim, essentially saying it amounts to finger-pointing without proof, but Page said he was inclined to believe the girl because admitting that she was served was against her own legal interests. A formal warning will be placed on file with the city as a result of that incident.
Ryan Mooney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mooney_ryan.