Last Call Earlier at Murf’s Tavern

Jay Hamel, the owner of Murf’s Backstreet Tavern, posed with Robert Deery, a bartender. The bar has had to switch its closing time from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m. Jamie Bufalino

Citing Murf’s Backstreet Tavern in Sag Harbor as a source of noise and nuisance, a focal point for police attention, and a “disorderly premise” at which the owner and manager are not supervising the crowd or how much the bartender is serving, the New York State Liquor Authority recently issued a series of civil penalties against the bar, including $10,000 in fines and a more restrictive liquor license that requires Murf’s to close at 2 a.m., two hours earlier than previously.

Jay Hamel, the bar’s owner and the licensee, pleaded no contest to the charges and said he plans to pay the fines by their due date, July 6, but insisted that he’s being unfairly targeted by the Sag Harbor Police Department.

At the village board meeting on June 12, a number of people protested the bar’s earlier closing time during a public hearing. Village Police Chief A.J. McGuire was in attendance and informed the public that the issue had nothing to do with the village board, since it was a directive from the liquor authority. Mr. Hamel then made his way to the podium and said that the true impetus for the penalties was the Police Department’s mistaken belief “that I have the number-one drug den in the Hamptons.”

On Friday, Mr. Hamel reiterated that claim, attributing the drug den accusation to Chief McGuire, and said that for the past few years he has often had four police officers posted on the “front flanks” of his property, as well as a police S.U.V. parked across the street shining its headlights into the bar from the parking lot of the Henry Persan and Sons hardware store.

Chief McGuire said on Tuesday that he never said Murf’s was a drug den, and insisted that the bar has not been singled out for attention. Regarding Mr. Hamel’s assertion that four officers are a persistent presence at his property, Mr. McGuire pointed out that the village “normally only has two officers at a time on shift.”

The S.L.A. made no mention of drugs in its charges against Murf’s, but there were repeated references to disorderly conduct, such as fights and disturbances on the street. The bar, said Jade Kraft, a public information specialist at the liquor authority, had been the site of 24 emergency calls since August 2014. In its charges, the S.L.A. specifically cited a March 8 incident that necessitated a police visit. A police report that week stated that Joel Kelsey had been at Murf’s and later returned to retrieve an item he had left behind. When he went back inside, Mr. Kelsey said that the bartender ushered him to the door and pushed him out. He told police that he wound up with a broken nose. He did not press charges, but wanted the incident documented.

Mr. Hamel disputed the S.L.A.’s findings about the number of emergency calls to his business, and said that Murf’s averages about two or three emergency calls a year. He called the accusation that there is no supervision “Bravo Sierra,” that is, “B.S.” He agreed to pay the fines and to accept the earlier closing time, he said, because his lawyers advised him that fighting the charges would be costly and could result in the loss of his liquor license. 

“One more hiccup and they’re going to have my license,” said Mr. Hamel. “The 4 o’clock ship is gone, we’re not getting that back. What we’re fighting for now is I don’t want to lose my house, and I don’t want put 10 local young adults out of work, and that’s what’s coming next.”