Karen Gadbois, The Lens staff writer
A popular Uptown college hangout has been shut down temporarily after a police raid that ensnared 47 underage drinkers, including the son of a prominent former state legislator, police said.
Friar Tuck’s Bar, on Freret Street just blocks away from Tulane and Loyola universities, on Tuesday was ordered closed for 30 days by the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. The order isn’t effective immediately, and the bar won’t close until mid-January.
The raid took place after a woman called to report an earlier incident in which her underage son was discovered drunk and passed out. She told police that he identified Friar Tuck’s as the place where he was served alcohol, said New Orleans Police detective Norbert Carroll, who presented the case to the board.
The raid happened June 17, during a happy hour basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.
“There were over 60 people in the bar, mostly neighborhood drinkers, sitting at the bar laughing and joking,” Carroll said.
Carroll identified one 17-year-old who he said was drinking, adding, “his daddy is Sherman Copelin.”
Copelin is a former Louisiana House representative from eastern New Orleans, and has been active in recovery issues since the storm. The eastern New Orleans businessman now serves as the vice president of the New Orleans Regional Business Park, a 7,000-acre piece of city property.
Carroll said the underage patrons were released without being cited.
Reached Wednesday, a spokesman for the New Orleans Police Department said he’d look into why the underage individuals were not cited and provide a comment.
Attorney Thomas Milliner represented bar owner Jason Blitch, who said he had invested in an identification detection system that would keep out underage drinkers. He was unable to retrieve the data from the system to prove it had been in use.
The board also heard testimony about the bar’s delinquent city taxes.
Blitch and his mother acquired the business in 2001, and she died in 2009 after a lengthy illness. Blitch said she was in charge of accounting, and he said the non-payment of taxes was her fault.
Attorney Dan MacNamara, who represents the city, claimed that Blitch offered nothing but excuses for both the underage patrons as well as tax problems.
“This is a person who should not operate an ABO [alcoholic beverage outlet] in this city,” MacNamara said.
Further clouding the issue was the fact that the bar legally lets patron between the ages of 18 to 21 enter the bar but are not allowed to drink alcohol.
Milliner said the police didn’t distinguish between those drinking and those not at the time of the raid.
“This list is all the people in the bar,” he said. “You can’t identify people who were drinking that night.”
That’s when Carroll offered up the name of the younger Copelin, who is now 18. Millner pressed to see if police searched him for a fake ID, and Carroll said the police had not.
Police did not name any other patrons during the hearing.
Milliner presented copies of the bar’s video surveillance tape that shows the police had actually herded one of the underage individuals into the building during the raid.
The police do not deny that one of the underage patrons was brought in with them, but board member Jerry Speir said one person hardly makes a difference in this case.
“You had an event where there were 60 people, three-quarters of them are under 21, and nine of them were under 17,” he said.
The board, led by Nyka Scott, made its decision five hours after the hearing began, saying the city had proven its case. The 30-day suspension also came with a $500 fine.
The bar is allowed to continue to operate throughout the holiday season with a closure from Jan. 15 to Feb. 15, to generate money to pay the fines and taxes owed the city.