, Salem, MA

November 14, 2013

Onion Town Grill hit with 3-day license suspension


---- — DANVERS — Selectmen have ordered the liquor license of the popular Onion Town Grill and Sports Bar at 175 Water St. suspended for three days, but exactly when the establishment might have to serve its punishment will be decided at a meeting next week.

Selectmen took the action last week following a state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission hearing in September that found that the establishment had violated a couple of state liquor laws.

The commission voted to suspend Onion Town’s license for five days, with the punishment held in abeyance for two years provided there are no more violations of state liquor laws.

However, the eatery was involved in a prior unrelated liquor-law violation dating back to a townwide compliance check held in July 2012.

In October 2012, selectmen imposed a three-day suspension held in abeyance for one year for an incident that involved a bartender serving a Bud Light to an underage liquor-compliance checker. At a public hearing, the restaurant’s co-owner expressed regret for the incident and said that the restaurant’s policies for checking IDs were tightened.

The violations this past June, however, fell within the one-year probationary period from the prior town punishment.

“They have not lived up to that agreement of no violations during that 12-month period,” Town Manager Wayne Marquis said at a Nov. 5 meeting. “In fact, we would recommend, based on your vote, to go forward with a three-day suspension, the only determination would be which three days,” Marquis said. “That would be a determination of the board to make.”

“We were simply imposing the penalty from Danvers,” Selectmen Chairman Gardner Trask said in an interview.

At the board’s meeting, Selectman Bill Clark and Selectwoman Diane Langlais motioned to have Onion Town Grill’s representatives appear before the board on Nov. 19 to discuss this.

The dates of the suspension proved controversial, however.

Selectman Dan Bennett, with support from Selectmen David Mills and Trask, suggested the suspension run as soon as possible during the first week of December.

“While I do not want to hurt the business or the employees of the business, they hurt themselves by their actions,” Trask said at the meeting.

With a 3-2 vote, Clark and Langlais voted against Bennett’s amendment that set the dates in the first week of December, saying the town should schedule the suspension on winter weekdays after the holidays to avoid hurting the business and its wait staff.

With a further 3-2 vote, with Clark and Langlais again voting no, the board voted to invite Onion Town Grill owners Gale Harwood Couture and Don Harwood to discuss the suspension dates. Couture and Harwood were not present at the meeting. A call to the eatery seeking comment Tuesday was not returned yesterday.

During the meeting, Marquis said that Onion Town Grill had violated two sections of state liquor laws, but he did not give specifics.

According to the ABCC’s decision on file with the town, on June 8, ABCC investigators went to Onion Town Grill on a complaint that the business was buying alcohol from New Hampshire. They met with Couture and Harwood.

“Ms. Couture admitted purchasing alcohol from New Hampshire and from local package stores,” according to the decision. She then identified 16 bottles not purchased from a wholesaler. Establishments are supposed to buy liquor from licensed in-state distributors.

Inspectors also found a funnel in the storage area. Investigators asked the owners if they were pouring cheap vodka into more expensive bottles. Gale Couture reportedly told ABCC investigators she did not do that, but that “she did put the Stoli into the Stoli,” meaning she was pouring the same brand of vodka into the same kind of bottles it came in. State liquor laws forbid the refilling of liquor bottles.

The ABCC handed out its five-day suspension based on those two violations, triggering the town response.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.