Cambridge cultural club faces litany of violations

Originally published in the Cambridge Chronicle on Feb. 18, 2014.

A Portuguese cultural club in Cambridge will face a month-long suspension after city inspectors cited the nonprofit for a “litany” of violations, including gambling, repeated noise complaints, and intoxicated guests stumbling out of the club and into neighbors’ yards.

The members-only organization, Casa Do Benfica Da Nova Inglaterra at 178 Elm St., was shut down two weeks prior at a License Commission hearing on Feb. 11. License Commission chair Andrea Jackson called the violations “troubling” and “unacceptable,” but allowed one week of the suspension to be held in abeyance for one year.

Andrea Boyer, chief licensing investigator for the License Commission, said inspectors first responded to the site after receiving noise and safety violation complaints from area residents. On Oct. 11, an inspector visited the club and discovered an extra grill and Frialator that had not been permitted and did not have proper ventilation hoods covering the gas systems. Boyer said the inspectors had to come in with NSTAR on Oct. 28 to shut off the gas to the building after NSTAR was reportedly refused entry to the building twice.

Approximately two months later, on Jan. 16, inspectors turned up at the club for a routine safety check and noticed two electronic gaming machines on the counter of the bar. The machines allowed users to play Poker, 21 and other games of chance. The inspector reportedly told the club members the machine violated their entertainment license and asked both machines be removed. The members initially complied, but when the inspector showed up later that evening with a police detective, one of the machines had already been turned back on, Boyer said.

The club’s president, Antonio Pires, said they didn’t realize the electronic gaming machine constituted gambling because the club wasn’t receiving any money from the system, but Cambridge Fire Chief and License Commission board member Gerald Reardon didn’t buy Pires’ excuse. Establishments with entertainment licenses are required to sign an affidavit every year, which explicitly states that no gaming is allowed.

“So, you can’t say you didn’t know,” Reardon said.

Fire Cpt. Thomas Cahill said he inspected the clubhouse in late January and found numerous fire code violations, including failing to keep ingresses and egresses clear, improper storage of combustible or flammable material, failing to maintain fire doors in working order, and failing to install a fire alarm system. Cahill issued a cease and desist order on Jan. 24, but three days later, inspectors found themselves back at the establishment after receiving complaints from neighbors that people were still using the club.

Reardon said he was concerned about the high number of violations.

“It’s not just one or two things,” Reardon said. “It’s a litany of violations.”

Residents added to the laundry list of complaints, saying they were repeatedly woken up by the loud parties, fights, and intoxicated guests stumbling through their gardens at all hours of the night. Trash is also a problem, they said, with receptacles overflowing every week, contributing to the rodent infestation.

Resident Cheyenne McCarter said one of her daughter’s friends stopped coming to sleepovers at their house because she was terrified by the “scary noises” coming from outside.

“She wasn’t used to sleeping next to drunken and disorderly behavior,” McCarter said. “There is no judgment about how much liquor is being served there.”

On more than one occasion, McCarter said she and her husband have awoken to find intoxicated men passed out in their driveway. But Pires said there was no way to prove those people were served at his club.

Jeff Davis, who lives directly adjacent to the Casa Do Benfica, said he woke up once to the sound of someone rattling his trashcans and walked out to find a young man urinating on his house.

“I’m a city boy, so I’m used to certain sounds at night,” Davis said. “But this was happening right next to the room where some of my guests were staying, and it’s upsetting that anyone could be made to feel uncomfortable in my house.”

Elm Street resident Kevin Keegan said the problem has gone on for far too long. He’s tried submitting formal complaints, he said, and even once sat through a neighborhood meeting facilitated by Boyer, but the issues returned.

“I stopped complaining because I just thought that was the way it was going to be,” Keegan said. “I get the feeling that they don’t care about the neighborhood.”

License Commission members were threatening to take away the club’s liquor license altogether until Jose Pereira, a member of the organization, explained they use the bar money to sponsor scholarships and dance classes for Portuguese-Americans to help them maintain their cultural roots.

“We sell the wine and beer to pay taxes, not to disturb the neighbors,” Pereira said. “Without that, the club wouldn’t be able to pay its mortgage.”

Pires said the club would no longer play music in the bar and would install all of the required fire alarms as well as bring the building into compliance with health and safety codes. Jackson said the club leaders should be cognizant of children and families in the neighborhood.

“You’re not being very good neighbors,” Jackson said. “Frankly, I’m troubled by these allegations and you should be, too.”

The board voted unanimously to approve a four-week suspension, two of which had already been served when the establishment was shut down — for the second time — on Jan. 28. Jackson ordered the club leaders to keep the doors locked for another week and held the final week of suspension in abeyance for one year. If the club violates any health, safety, noise, or fire codes in that time, they’ll have to serve the suspension, she said.

Resident Cheyenne McCarter said one of her daughter’s friends stopped coming to sleepovers at their house because she was terrified by the “scary noises” coming from outside.

“She wasn’t used to sleeping next to drunken and disorderly behavior,” McCarter said. “There is no judgment about how much liquor is being served there.”

On more than one occasion, McCarter said she and her husband have awoken to find intoxicated men passed out in their driveway. But Pires said there was no way to prove those people were served at his club.

Jeff Davis, who lives directly adjacent to the Casa Do Benfica, said he woke up once to the sound of someone rattling his trashcans and walked out to find a young man urinating on his house.

“I’m a city boy, so I’m used to certain sounds at night,” Davis said. “But this was happening right next to the room where some of my guests were staying, and it’s upsetting that anyone could be made to feel uncomfortable in my house.”

Elm Street resident Kevin Keegan said the problem has gone on for far too long. He’s tried submitting formal complaints, he said, and even once sat through a neighborhood meeting facilitated by Boyer, but the issues returned.

“I stopped complaining because I just thought that was the way it was going to be,” Keegan said. “I get the feeling that they don’t care about the neighborhood.”

License Commission members were threatening to take away the club’s liquor license altogether until Jose Pereira, a member of the organization, explained they use the bar money to sponsor scholarships and dance classes for Portuguese-Americans to help them maintain their cultural roots.

“We sell the wine and beer to pay taxes, not to disturb the neighbors,” Pereira said. “Without that, the club wouldn’t be able to pay its mortgage.”

Pires said the club would no longer play music in the bar and would install all of the required fire alarms as well as bring the building into compliance with health and safety codes. Jackson said the club leaders should be cognizant of children and families in the neighborhood.

“You’re not being very good neighbors,” Jackson said. “Frankly, I’m troubled by these allegations and you should be, too.”

The board voted unanimously to approve a four-week suspension, two of which had already been served when the establishment was shut down — for the second time — on Jan. 28. Jackson ordered the club leaders to keep the doors locked for another week and held the final week of suspension in abeyance for one year. If the club violates any health, safety, noise, or fire codes in that time, they’ll have to serve the suspension, she said.

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