By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Last call will be a little earlier than usual at The Other Place tavern for at least the next few months.
The License Commission has ordered that the tavern close no later than 9:30 p.m. until the owner hires a new manager and that person is approved first by the city and then by state alcohol regulators.
The ruling follows a lengthy investigation by local police and federal agents of drug activity at the business, which is on Cedar Street in the city’s Acre neighborhood. Police and city officials have also raised concerns that current owner and manager, 24-year-old Laurie Chiarenza, has not been on the premises as often as she is supposed to be under her license.
Last month, police said they have been investigating the business and Chiarenza’s father, Michael Chiarenza, 45, since 2011. The probe was triggered by complaints from neighbors who suspected drug deals were taking place there, police said. Michael Chiarenza has not been charged.
Undercover federal agents said they infiltrated the business and arranged two drug deals from inside the tavern with a former bartender. But both drug deals, which led to two arrests, were made outside Haverhill, one in Lawrence and one in Salem, N.H.
At a punishment hearing last week, Chiarenza’s lawyer William Early stressed neither drug deal took place inside the tavern and that no one has been arrested there since Chiarenza opened almost a year ago.
“It would Draconian for the board to revoke the license for something that happened in Salem, New Hampshire,” Early said, referring to the April arrest of the tavern’s former bartender, Jennifer Moran, for allegedly selling $950 worth of “Perc 30” pills to undercover agents.
Commission members countered that, according to police, drug deals have been arranged, if not consummated, inside the tavern, which they said is a violation of its liquor license. They also expressed concern that Laurie Chiarenza’s father is the person who is really running the business.
“I’m concerned the current manager position appears to be a ruse,” Commission member Tim Coco said. “She appears to be the manager is name only.”
Haverhill police wanted the commission to permanently revoke the tavern’s liquor license. But Commission Chairman Joseph Edwards said the city has been advised by the state Alcohol Beverage Control Commission that it should not revoke or suspend the license since no one was arrested inside the building.
Prior to making its ruling, Early told the commission that Laurie Chiarenza was giving up her management position and would be proposing a new manager at the commission’s January meeting. Early said Laurie Chiarenza recently gave birth to a child and is no longer able to devote the required time and energy to the business.
Laurie Chiarenza, who last month told the commission she also works full-time selling insurance, said she was also recently in a car accident.
“I’m dealing with a lot of stuff right now and can only do about 20 hours a week (at the tavern),” she said.
Hearing that, Edwards appeared to take his colleagues, Early and Laurie Chiarenza and police by surprise in suggesting the business be required to close at 9:30 p.m. until the new manager is approved by state liquor regulators.
“She’s busy and has said herself she can’t be there enough to watch over what’s going on,” Edwards said. “I think people from outside Haverhill are going to this place for a reason, maybe. This will give our police department a break until the new manager is in place.”
The board unanimously approved the 9:30 p.m. shutdown.
Lt. Robert Pistone said police are disappointed more serious action won’t be taken against the tavern.
“But due to what Boston told you, we are comfortable with having them close early until there’s a new manager,” Pistone told the commission. “But we’re going to continue to watch the establishment closely and when the next manager is in place, we’re going to check to make sure they are on the premise more often.”