Citing concerns about safety and security for their neighborhood, 15 people told liquor control commissioners Thursday that they wanted Los Imperios Restaurant & Lounge’s liquor permit revoked. The restaurant has also failed to pay rent since April, and last week manager Ernesto Leon and his landlord agreed he will leave the Farmington Avenue space on March 15, given he meets certain payment deadlines.
Defending his restaurant Thursday morning, Leon said he thought it was “unfair” that those who spoke Thursday said he isn’t working with the town. Police officials and Mayor Shari Cantor said during testimony that Leon refuses to work with town officials.
“We have been attacked since day one,” Leon said. “We’re trying our hardest to do whatever we can to work with the town.”
He also said he has eight security guards working at the restaurant and offers valet parking. Leon blamed media coverage as to why neighbors may not see crowds during lunch or dinner. He told commissioner David Scribner that about 40 percent of his sales are food-related sales.
Leon faced eviction this fall after not paying rent since April, according to court filings. Last week, Leon agreed that he will pay his landlord $8,400 in December, January, February and March before leaving the 7,000-square-foot space on March 15.
Resident Melinda Montovani organized the petition hearing, called a remonstrance, by submitting 57 signatures to the Department of Consumer Protection — the agency that issues liquor permits. To petition for a remonstrance hearing on a liquor permit, residents must submit at least 10 signatures.
At Thursday’s hearing, Montovani described the chaotic Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights neighbors in the area have experienced — yelling, fighting, cars blasting music after Los Imperios’ closing time, cars racing up and down neighborhood streets, and debris such as broken bottles, used condoms and used tampons strewn about sidewalks and residents’ yards.
“Revoking [Los Imperios’] license is the only solution to all of this,” Montovani said.
Naomi Rafalowicz, a Milton Street resident, said her “quality of life has deteriorated” and is anxious from Thursday to Sunday morning. She said she has called police routinely from 11:30 p.m. to 2:15 a.m. for disruptions stemming from Los Imperios.
“This establishment has not been a good neighbor to us,” Rafalowicz said.
Liquor control agent Jaci Lewis said prior to the hearing that 15 complaints have been filed against the restaurant in the past year, 13 of which were filed by West Hartford Police. She said the complaints ranged from fights inside and outside the restaurant and liquor sales to minors.
Lewis said that other than the remonstrance, there was no reason why the agency wouldn’t renew Leon’s liquor permit.
Cantor said Los Imperios is “a nuisance and truly a danger,” citing a number of police calls in the past year, including the shots fired incident outside the restaurant in September 2016 and a fight over the summer that left a man unconscious on the dance floor.
“In West Hartford, we promote business, we like business, but this has crossed a line,” Cantor said. “[Los Imperios managers’] actions and inactions has threatened and continues to threaten safety in West Hartford.”
West Hartford Assistant Police Chief Robert McCue submitted an 18-page report of police responses to the Farmington Avenue restaurant and incidents stemming from patrons after they’ve left the restaurant, including shots fired incidents, noise complaints and fights.
“No other restaurant in West Hartford has established a track record like this — none,” McCue said.
After obtaining a West Hartford entertainment license last year, West Hartford Police said the restaurant has violated conditions of that license. As a result of those violations, the department has imposed — since late June — a two-officer police detail to patrol the area when the restaurant closes on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. To date, Leon has refused to pay for the police detail and McCue said Thursday that Leon now owes the town roughly $85,000 for that detail.
Town officials in October filed for a court order saying that Leon is to pay back fees associated with the police detail, at that time roughly $76,000.
Police have submitted roughly 30 investigation referrals to the DCP — the most any police department has filed about a restaurant in the state — since Los Imperios opened in 2014.
The Department of Consumer Protection also has suspended the restaurant’s liquor license three times in the past 15 months: for 16 days in September 2016 after shots were fired outside the restaurant; from Sept. 11 to 13 this year, along with a fine of $750 for selling to minors and having a minor in the barroom; and again in October for selling to a minor.
Commissioners have 90 days to make a decision on Los Imperios’ liquor permit. While commissioners consider the case, the restaurant can still serve alcohol as their case is “active under review.”