By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Five city restaurants have won some relief from a new rule that required them to assign a worker to exclusively watch customers drinking alcohol on outside decks every night - a mandate several of the businesses complained was unfair and would hurt them financially.
Under a modification approved this week by the city’s License Commission, the restaurants must still monitor deck patrons with a dedicated employee at their busiest times — 9 p.m. to closing Fridays and Saturdays and the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving.
The original rule required the restaurants to monitor decks with a worker from 7 p.m. to closing every day.
The issue of drinking alcohol on decks came up as a result of an Aug. 25 accident in which a 26-year-old man who was drinking alcohol was seriously injured when he toppled backward off a second-story deck at Hans Garden on Washington Street.
Police said Matthew McKay of Methuen spent three days in a Boston hospital and suffered three cracked ribs, a collapsed lung, internal bleeding and a sprained ankle after falling from the roughly 10-foot-high structure overlooking the Merrimack River.
Tony Hans, owner of the Chinese food restaurant, has been cited by police for failing to provide a safe environment for patrons and selling or delivering alcohol to McKay after he was already intoxicated. A punishment hearing for Hans is scheduled for the commission’s Oct. 11 meeting.
“I acted hastily (two weeks ago) in proposing that it start at 7 and be every day,” License Commission Chairman Joseph Edwards said of the new deck rule. “I know there’s a lot fewer people using the decks when the weather gets colder, and I’m sure no one is even out there drinking on some nights.”
Restaurants with permission to allow patrons to drink alcohol on their deck include Hans Garden, the Tap Brewhouse and the Lasting Room on Washington Street, Mr. Mike’s Restaurant and Lounge on Main Street, and Archie’s Ale House in Lafayette Square.
Richard Willet, owner of the Lasting Room, and Sharon Cohen, general manager of the Tap, said they had no problem with the deck rule after it had been amended to start later and be in effect on weekends only.
“If someone is running their business right, they are watching the deck when it’s busy anyway,” Willet said.
Willet strongly objected to the original provisions of the rule when it was passed earlier this month.
“I understand it’s a public safety issue, but to pay an employee every day of the week to watch the deck because of someone else’s mistake isn’t fair,” Willet said at the commission’s Sept. 13 meeting. “It seems like we’re all being punished.”
Cohen said the Tap deck is busiest in summer months, but that customers also use it in colder weather to smoke cigarettes.
“There might be 15 or 20 people out there smoking at any given time on Friday and Saturday night,” she said.
Commission member Tim Coco, who was appointed this week, asked Cohen and Willet about the possibility of altering their deck railings to make it harder for customers to sit on it.
“You could put spikes on the railing, but then someone will get pushed into the spikes,” Cohen joked.
Police Lt. Robert Pistone told the commission he recently inspected the Hans Garden deck and that the owner has installed decorative flower boxes on the railings to make it harder for someone to sit on them.
Edwards said there are reasons to be monitoring patrons drinking on decks other than the the possibility of someone falling off, however.
“You could have underage people out there drinking or someone sneaking in their own alcohol,” he said.
“If 10 or 15 people are out there drinking, they need to be monitored and that’s what we do,” she said. “It’s just good business.”