Closing time for troubled San Jose bar

State regulators Tuesday indefinitely suspended the liquor license of a San Jose bar with a history of crime and disorderly conduct.

In response to community complaints, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control conducted a joint undercover investigation at El Tarasco at 801 N. 13th St. in April and May last year that uncovered multiple violations of state liquor licensing laws, officials said today.

Undercover agents were able to buy methamphetamines from an employee at the bar and were illegally solicited by several employees to buy alcoholic beverages for them. The department filed an eight-count accusation against the bar owner alleging that he knowingly permitted the sale of controlled substances and illegal drink solicitation.

The ABC’s investigation was triggered by a community campaign to shut down the bar dating back at least five years, an effort in which City Councilman Sam Liccardo, now San Jose’s mayor-elect, was actively involved.

Residents complained of fights, drinking and urinating on the streets outside, prostitution, unlicensed lap dancing and solicitation of drinks, according to a statement Liccardo filed in August with the city’s rules and open government committee. I

n addition, police have responded to numerous incidents over the years including shootings and stabbings. While state regulators investigated, city officials moved ahead with their own legal actions against the bar this year, issuing a cease-and-desist order through the city attorney’s office, according to Fred Buzo, an aide for Liccardo. That order was upheld in a hearing on Thursday.

Without the ABC action, however, a new bar could have opened tomorrow at the same location, Buzo said. Since the location predates current zoning, there is currently no requirement for a bar on the site to obtain a conditional use permit from the city before opening.

The ABC’s order not only suspends the license for 30 days and then indefinitely until the owner can transfer it to another owner at another location. It also includes a provision that no alcohol can be served at El Tarasco’s location for a full year under any license, Buzo said.

After that time the site will lose its exemption from current residential zoning, and anyone wanting to open a new bar there will have to apply for a city conditional use permit, Buzo said:

“That provides much more control for the city.”

Under the terms of an agreement with the ABC, the owner of El Tarasco had until today to shut down, but instead chose to close on Friday, Buzo said.