BRATTLEBORO—Last week’s fire at the Brooks House fire made The Mole’s Eye’s future uncertain.
But the loss of the bar’s liquor license may definitively seal the bar’s fate, as the Selectboard last Tuesday voted unanimously to not renew it.
Since the 1970s, The Mole’s Eye has made its home in the oak-paneled Brooks House basement — the site of various drinking establishments since the 1930s.
Owner Todd Tousley bought the bar last April. His first- and third-class liquor licenses expire April 30.
Tousley and Brenda Fortier, the manager, appeared before the Selectboard two days after the fire.
Tousley said he also owns Penuche’s Ale House in Keene, N.H., as well as bars in Nashua and Concord, N.H.
Damaged building aside, the board, acting as liquor commissioners, had a laundry list of concerns about incidents at the Mole’s Eye. Documents provided to the Selectboard by Brattleboro Police Department listed violations dating from April 2010 to March 2011.
Violations ranged from noise disturbances to an aggravated assault, where police found a man in Harmony Parking lot who had been struck in the head with a glass by a second man while at the Mole’s Eye.
Town attorneys Robert Fisher and Jodi French, from Fisher & Fisher Law Offices, also provided a memorandum summarizing a pending Vermont Liquor Control Board hearing on April 27.
The VLCB hearing will consider the suspension or revocation of the bar’s first- and third-class licenses based on 12 allegations of violations.
The alleged 2010 violations ranged from inadequately trained employees, fighting, and an over-serving that resulted in a DUI-related death.
“Where the State Liquor Control Board has a hearing scheduled in the immediate future for the serious allegations against The Mole’s Eye,” wrote Fisher and French, “it is appropriate for the local control commission [Selectboard] to proceed with caution regarding the applications for renewal.”
Selectboard member Ken Schneck estimated that the Mole’s Eye had more violations than Brattleboro’s other bars combined, “times two.”
Selectboard Clerk Dora Bouboulis echoed Schneck’s observation, saying she has not felt safe at the Mole’s Eye.
Fellow member David Gartenstein said that in good conscience, he couldn’t vote for the renewal.
Tousley, also a musician, said he purchased the Mole’s Eye in part because he “always loved it” when his band played at the venue. He thought the bar possessed a “good vibe.”
He said his New Hampshire establishments don’t suffer from the same problems. At those businesses, Tousley said, he operated on a “three strikes” rule for bad behavior that has served him well.
“It’s taken a full year to figure out this town,” said Tousley, calling Brattleboro a “one-strike town.”
Tousley told the board he concluded that the Mole’s Eye’s issues stem from patronage by a “subculture of racism and heroin” that caught him off guard.
Tousley said he has taken out no-trespassing and restraining orders, a first for any of his businesses.
Fortier agreed. She said she worked at the Mole’s Eye for 20 years under a previous owner. When she returned a year ago, she said she was “in shock.”
“But I’ve noticed the town has changed,” she said.
But Bouboulis said other Brattleboro bars served the same people without the same issues.
“A vast majority of these violations are about the employees at the bar [not patrons],” said Schneck.
DeGray asked Tousley if he had reached out for support from Brattleboro Police Department.
Tousley said the officers had come to the bar, and one made a suggestion that Tousley turn the Harmony Lot entrance into a fire exit, to curtail fights from spilling into the parking lot.
Police Chief Eugene Wrinn said the department sent the bar 20 Title Seven notices, but only received three to four back.
According to Sgt. Robert Perkins of the Brattleboro Police Department, sending out Title Seven notices is unique to Brattleboro. The department routinely sends out the notices to establishes named by suspects as the last place they drank prior to an alcohol-related incident like a DUI.
The rational behind the Title Seven notices is to reach out to the establishments, give them information and offer department assistance, such as training, if the bar or retail owner requests it. The notices also serve as an opportunity for the establishment to dispute the suspect's claim.
The department expects a response, said Perkins. But working with the police department is “totally voluntary.”
That said, he added, the Town Manager and Selectboard do take the establishment's lack of response into consideration come license renewal time.
“We can’t work with you if you don’t work with us,” said Wrinn.
Selectboard Chair Dick DeGray offered Tousley the option of withdrawing his license renewal application.
If he did, said DeGray, Tousley could reclaim his $200 application fee.
Now that the Selectboard has denied his license renewal, Tousley will have to appeal the decision through the Superior Court.
Tousley said he would try his luck there.
Jonathan Chase, the owner of the Brooks House, last week called the Mole’s Eye an “institution,” and said when the building reopens “we’ll have an establishment there, and I hope it’s the Mole’s Eye.”