Bouncers Taking Bribes From Underage Drinkers, Say Police
By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
LOWER EAST SIDE — Bouncers on the Lower East Side are taking cash to allow minors into the neighborhood's countless bars and clubs, police said.
The practice, which in some cases is initiated by security guards themselves, is "not uncommon at all" given the crush of night crawlers who flock below Houston Street each weekend, said 7th Precinct Capt. David Miller.
"It's very prevalent," said the executive officer, who formerly covered club-heavy Chelsea while working for the 10th Precinct on the West Side. "It's happening more than less at some of these locations."
Miller, speaking at the precinct's monthly community council meeting last week, sought to address the recent crackdown on Lower East Side hot spots such as Gallery Bar, which was recently shuttered for underage drinking.
Police closed the Orchard Street bar last month for selling alcohol to minors on a handful of occasions dating back to September of last year, according to records from the State Liquor Authority.
In once instance, a bouncer accepted a cash bribe to allow an underage patron into the establishment, said Gallery Bar owner Darin Rubell.
He said he's defenseless against the practice, given that he can't monitor his security guards' every move.
"It's not my goal to sit here and serve underages. My goal is to make money as a business," he said, equating the police's tactic of using undercover agents to bust bars to "entrapment."
"Anyone running a business under a microscope, you'll see the flaws," he added. "You're going to make mistakes, it happens."
Rubell explained that after the bust he was mandated to hire bouncers through an outside security company, a common practice at many nightlife venues.
"My security bill literally is now more than my rent," he said of being required to double the amount of guards he employs. "You only hope that [bouncers] can do the job they were hired to do."
Miller, the police captain, said some places are "well known" among the under-21 set for being lax on checking IDs, adding that the precinct looks especially harshly at underage drinking because of younger people's tendency to start fights after boozing.
He noted the precinct has issued 331 nightlife-related summonses for disorderly conduct since last October across its coverage area — 274 of which have been produced along Orchard and Ludlow streets, between East Houston and Delancey streets.
This accompanies a 12-percent increase in the amount of booze-serving establishments located within the precinct over the past year, including a nearly 25-percent uptick in bars along the two-block area between East Houston and Delancey streets.
Regardless, Rubell believes that more open communication between the police and bar owners is key to curbing the problem.
"We don't really have an underage problem — the cops are creating one," he said, explaining he wasn't notified of the NYPD's undercover actions dating back to September until police closed him down, and therefore couldn't move to address the problem earlier.
Rubell added that since he also wasn't told which bouncer took the bribe, he was forced to fire to his entire security staff and hire an entirely new one.
"I don't believe underage drinking is some monster problem," he said. "If [police] believe it is, they should work with the venues to address this."