By JOHN T. WARD
Lucky Break Billiards, the Red Bank pool hall that shut itself down after becoming entangled in bureaucratic red tape over beer and wine consumption, will reopen Thursday.
Hall owner James Hertler tells redbankgreen he got the green light to reopen Wednesday from Mayor Pasquale Menna.
“The gist of it was that there was no complaint” by anyone that Hertler could challenge in court, Hertler said Menna told him. “My takeaway was that we’re good to go.”
Menna confirmed Wednesday afternoon that he had spoken to Hertler to tell him he could reopen while the town searches for a comprehensive, long-term solution to precisely define which businesses might be permitted to allow their customers to bring in their own beer and wine.
At present, the town has no such ordinance, and defers to a state statute that Hertler contends permits BYOB nights at pool halls.
As reported last week by redbankgreen, police went to the West Front Street business on a Friday night in late August and told customers who were having a private party there to get rid of their open containers of wine and beer.
Hertler soon found himself caught in a Kafkaesque nightmare, unable to find out definitively why his customers were suddenly prohibited from doing what he believed he’d been approved for by multiple borough agencies: having private BYOB parties.
The sudden inability to offer the BYOB option to walk-in customers and private parties led to the cancellation of numerous previously booked events and a steep drop in business, said Hertler, who shut the place down in late September.
Town officials said the pool hall was in violation of a state BYOB law, though no summons was issued. Afterward, several elected officials, including Menna, endorsed the crackdown on BYOB at non-food-based establishments, with Menna saying the town could find itself with clothing stores and movie theaters turning into “gin mills” if the law wasn’t enforced.
But after Hertler pleaded his case to the borough council 10 days ago, with an article about his situation on redbankgreen the following day, a groundswell of public anger arose, and apparently forced the borough to reverse course.
“I told him I’d look into it, and I did,” Menna said Wednesday afternoon. Using what he called “a common-sense approach,” he said he had investigated to find if there were any formal complaints on file against the pool hall, whether filed by police, the zoning and building offices, or citizens. There were none, he said.
“There’s nothing to interpret, because there’s no filed complaint,” he said.
“In the absence of that, there’s only one issue: the technical violation of advertising the BYOB” aspect of the business, he said.
“It would not seem to me that the advertising in and of itself is a substantially grievous violation,” he said.
Menna said Lucky Break will be able to continue doing business, and if anyone signs a formal complaint, Hertler would have the opportunity to respond in court.
But the town won’t get in his way, Menna said, adding that he sees “the benefits of what he’s trying to do” in attracting nightlife to the downtown.
Asked if he planned to attend the 6:30 p.m. meeting of the mayor and council Wednesday, Hertler replied, “I’m planning to go to my place” and get it ready to reopen. “I’m not that into the politics. I just want to operate my business.
“I’d love to say this is a happy ending,” Hertler said, “but we’ve been closed for three months, so we have some digging out to do.”