Shape up or ship out was the edict from the Williamstown Board of Selectmen last night as they voted to place Canterbury’s Pub on probation until its liquor license comes up for renewal again next December. In addition, the establishment will not be allowed to hold its popular “Club Canterbury’s” night, which allows 18-21 year olds to enter the upstairs dancing area. The Thursday night event is now prohibited until William Caprari, owner of Canterbury’s, petitions the Selectmen to allow him to continue with the event.
The hearing was held in response to a perceived increase in incidents on Spring St., where Canterbury’s is located, including three fights involving patrons of Canterbury’s in the last six months. There have also been a number of incidents involving underage drinkers at Canterbury’s.
According to Arthur Parker, chief of the Williamstown Police Department (WPD), Canterbury’s has been one of the biggest sources of complaints to the department and the situation has only been getting worse. “The frequency of calls and incidences has increased this summer and fall,” said Parker. “Have I spent more time with Mr. Caprari than anyone else? Absolutely.”
Over the last year Canterbury’s has been no stranger to controversy. Last January, a sting by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) found five underage drinkers in the pub that night. On July 27 the WPD responded to a fight between two groups, at least one of which had been at Canterbury’s earlier that night. A fight broke out on Aug. 17 in Canterbury’s between an off-duty police officer (the officer was not a member of the WPD) and another individual. On Nov. 30 an estimated 30-40 people were involved in a brawl on Spring St. – a number of those involved had just come out of the pub. All three fights came on nights that were “Club Canterbury’s” nights.
According to Steve Pagnotta, the lawyer for Canterbury’s, Caprari has received an unfair share of the blame in recent months. “There’s been a lot of publicity to which [Caprari] has been unable to respond,” said Pagnotta. “He is not in the business of operating a bar poorly, illegally, or irresponsibly. We’ve heard about a number of incidents many of which are not directly attributable to Canterbury’s. There has been only one fight in Canterbury’s.”
Pagnotta also pointed out that there has been only one allegation of underage drinking in Canterbury’s since the ABCC sting, and that allegation has not been confirmed.
Part of Caprari’s effort to minimize underage drinking has involved greater communication between Caprari and the Williams College administration.
“The clientele [of Canterbury’s] used to be more Williams College [students] before last year,” said Pagnotta. “That has changed primarily because of steps Mr. Caprari has taken.”
Pagnotta pointed to the decrease in underage drinking and the fact that there have been no incidents since the Nov. 30 brawl as evidence that the Selectmen should not take drastic action such as restricting the pub’s business hours. The Selectmen were not all quite convinced that Canterbury’s is as innocent as Pagnotta suggested.
“I’m told that having three fights in six months on Spring St. isn’t too much,” said Margaret Ware, member of the Board of Selectmen. “But we didn’t have Club Canterbury’s in September and November. But in July, we had it and we had a fight. In August, we had it and we had a fight. In October, we had it and we had a fight. I think three fights is a lot – and I’m ticked.”
A motion to restrict Canterbury’s hours of operation by an hour each night failed by a two-to-three vote; it was seen as too drastic a punishment that might not even solve many problems.
“It’s not illogical that these incidents happen around closing,” said Anne Skinner, member of the Board of Selectmen. “Shortening the hours only helps if people don’t drink more.”
A movement to require Canterbury’s to provide two additional security officers to patrol the areas adjacent to Canterbury’s on “Club Canterbury’s” nights was withdrawn as the Selectmen were unable to decide what would constitute appropriate security and how long it would have to be in place for. Given their actions, the Selectmen do not, however, believe additional incidents will occur at Canterbury’s.
“If it gets out of control again we are going to revisit the matter,” said Ware.