MONTPELIER – The Backstage Pub & Restaurant will lose its liquor licenses for seven days because the owner, Vincent Dober Sr. was found intoxicated on the premises, the Vermont Liquor Control Board has ruled.
The board also agreed to renew the annual liquor licenses for the bar at 60 Pearl St. but handed down tight restrictions: Dober will be prohibited from drinking or being under the influence of alcohol or any substance while on the premises, the board ruled.
He also must cooperate fully and submit to a breath or blood test at the request of any law enforcement officer, the board ruled. Failure to comply will lead to revocation of his liquor licenses.
The board also said it wants Dober to appear when it comes time for any future license renewals. Dober, 53, is a former Burlington city councilor and was on its licensing committee. He has owned the Essex bar for about five years.
The board’s eight-page decision said when bar owners drink at their own establishment, “it creates difficulties, if not impossibilities, in liquor law enforcement. The line between employee and patron is too easily blurred.
“We have now found that Mr. Dober’s intoxication has led to violations stemming from his role as both employee and patron of his licensed establishment,” the decision continues. “These infractions cannot continue if licensee wishes to remain licensed.”
The suspension is scheduled to go into effect August 1.
Longtime Burlington lawyer Norm Blais, who represents Dober, said Tuesday an appeal was unlikely. Dober has 30 days to appeal.
“We feel they were reasonable conditions to be imposed considering the circumstances, and he will live with them,” Blais told The Essex Reporter.
The decision comes after a series of events at the bar located on the backside of a major shopping center in the village. One case involved whether Dober was impaired at his bar, and the other allegation was he failed to fully disclose his criminal record.
The town of Essex has said it would postpone any possible disciplinary action until the state resolved its case. Assistant town manager Greg Duggan said Tuesday the staff is proposing some discussion – but not a hearing – at the Aug. 6 selectboard meeting.
Essex Police had reported there were 26 incidents at Backstage between Jan. 1, 2017 and April 4, 2018 that generated some kind of police response. These included at least seven documented cases of driving while under the influence; the other complaints were for assaults, intoxicated persons, disorderly conduct and a non-fatal drug overdose.
During the state board hearing May 16, Dober tried to dispute the testimony of liquor investigator Jay Clark. The veteran investigator testified the bar owner was intoxicated, his speech was slurred and he was unsteady on his feet the night of April 28.
Clark was called to the bar after getting two anonymous tips that Dober was intoxicated, the board said. The board found Clark’s testimony “credible in all respects,” it said.
Dober had testified he wasn’t drunk but rather had a respiratory illness. Two days after the encounter with Clark, Dober said he sought medical care and was diagnosed with bronchitis. The board said Clark was qualified to tell the difference between the signs for intoxication and for a cold.
“A liquor license is a privilege and not a right,” the board noted in its decision. “At the forefront of the board’s duties, we are charged with ensuring public safety. Determining whether a license can be granted and to whom a license may be granted is a matter entrusted to this board and is not a matter to be taken lightly.”
Blais was able to get a third misconduct charge – failing to provide a breath test – tossed out by the board on a 3-0 vote. There was some confusion whether the breath test requirement imposed earlier by the liquor board was enforceable only when Dober was working at the bar or anytime he was present.
Clark testified Dober tried several times to give a breath test but failed to complete blowing into the machine. Dober attributed it to his sickness.
Dober maintained he was not working the night Clark asked for the test. Clark testified the on-duty bartender, Kelly Clifford, indicated she never served Dober, but he had at least four Bud Light drafts, the board wrote. Clark said Clifford indicated she thought Dober was intoxicated.
The doorman, who got to work at 9 p.m., also thought Dober was drunk, the board said. He said if Dober had been any other patron, he would have removed him from the premises, but he feared losing his job, the board said.
The breath test condition was added to Dober’s license in April following an earlier incident in which he was found tending bar with a .172 percent blood-alcohol level. He paid a $350 fine for the infraction, and Backstage’s license was suspended for three days due to an intoxicated patron on the premises that same night.
The other main charge centered on a Sept. 20, 2017 traffic incident in Addison County by the Champlain Bridge connecting Vermont and New York.
Numerous firearms, including two loaded guns, were on the front seat console of Dober’s vehicle, police said. Dober, who said he’s a longtime marksman, testified he thought he was charged with six felonies and seven misdemeanors in New York, but in the end, he was convicted of two gun-related misdemeanors and an alcohol violation, records show.
On his license renewal the previous year, Dober disclosed the conviction but failed to provide any detail, including which court and what offense. The notation led DLC to uncover Dober’s alcohol-related offense.
The board decided this didn’t amount to misrepresentation but noted the “licensee application could have been more forthcoming about the totality of the events leading to his arrest.”
The board did say it would consider the alcohol-related conviction in Dober’s next license renewal, including whether conditions should be imposed.