Sans beer for now, Naples looks for new crowd

When it comes to getting Naples Pizza and Restaurant’s liquor license back, owner Anthony Prifitera’s pitcher of hope is by no means drained.

But with the beer off tap for the foreseeable future, the restaurateur may turn to focus groups and the Internet to bring back the crowds.

“Basically, I want to get 20 to 25 Yalies together and come up with something that can save my restaurant,” Prifitera said. “The goal is to bring the students back, so who better to suggest ideas?”

Prifitera is still fighting the good fight against the state, however. He recently appealed in state court the Connecticut Liquor Control Commission’s decision to revoke Naples’ license after he refused to pay a $12,500 fine stemming from a raid that uncovered several sales of alcohol to minors. After the raid, Prifitera’s liquor license was suspended for 75 days. Had he paid the fine on time, the popular Wall Street hangout could have resumed selling beer and wine as early as this past April.

Rather than paying in one lump sum as stipulated by the commission, however, Prifitera wanted to negotiate. He offered to cough up the punitive chunk of change in three installments, and when the commission rejected his terms, he did not pay at all. The authorities then yanked his license for good.

But Prifitera’s attorney, Peter Ressler, said he thinks the commission was out of line when it refused to let Prifitera split up the fine.

“It’s harsh to revoke his license on a permanent basis when the suspension wasn’t contested,” Ressler said. “We wanted to pay the fine in full, just not all at once, and we think the commission should have let us do that.”

Liquor Control Commission Administrator Gerald Langlais declined to comment, saying it was now purely a matter for the courts. The state’s attorneys handling the case did not return repeated phone messages.

Prifitera has less than a week to file legal briefs due in the New Britain Superior Court on Sept. 9, but he has been concentrating his efforts on plans to revamp his establishment. His solution: focus groups.

In fact, Prifitera has already started without them. He said he is currently considering adding high-speed Internet lines to the former hot spot in the hopes of attracting World Wide Web-browsing students in the evenings and busy professionals who work in the area during lunchtime.

“The Internet seems to be the new thing for students, so maybe it’ll help us reel them back in,” Prifitera said.

But some students said that despite Prifitera’s best efforts, Naples is bound to lose without the accessible booze.

“Naples still has some of the best pizza in the area, and a cool atmosphere,” Stephen Vider ’03 said in an e-mail. “Without a liquor license, though, I don’t know that Naples can ever expect to attract the kind of crowds it used to.”

“I don’t think Naples will get a huge undergrad crowd like they used to without the easy-flowing pitchers,” concurred Adam Litle ’03. “Naples has to learn to become just another pizza joint in addition to the dozens already surrounding students at every corner.”

But Prifitera’s resolve to be first in Yalies’ hearts dies hard.

“Whatever it takes to bring them back, we’re going to do it,” he said. “But without alcohol — because you can’t fight City Hall.”

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