It was supposed to be a typical weekend night on the town for two Yale juniors headed to the Oracle nightclub on Crown St. for “Purimania,” a Purim-themed party sponsored by several campus Jewish groups last Saturday.
The first of the two students, who is 21, presented her ID and was admitted into the nightclub, where organizers expected several hundred Elis to congregate for a festive Purim frolic complete with an open bar. But her 20-year-old friend didn’t follow behind: Despite wielding a usually reliable fake ID, she was turned away by the club’s bouncer.
Such rejection was the case for most Yale students who tried to attend the event. Only about 20 to 30 students actually made it inside, according to students who attended, as most Elis were turned away for being underage. Though students said Oracle’s crackdown on fake IDs was the most severe instance of local clubs’ increased scrutiny of underage patrons, officials at several popular New Haven nightclubs said they have no choice but to seriously examine every ID presented to them, as police and State Liquor Control Division agents have maintained an almost weekly presence downtown in recent months.
Rabbi Shua Rosenstein of Chabad at Yale, which helped sponsor the party, said the event’s low attendance was the result of a miscommunication with the club, as organizers had been told Oracle would admit students ages 18 and older and would provide wristbands for those 21 and older so they could order drinks. But on Saturday night, Oracle would only allow in students of legal drinking age, Rosenstein said, so most Yale students could not attend — much to the dismay of organizers.
Students who tried to attend the party said regardless of the miscommunication, the club’s intense scrutiny of fake IDs was what kept the turnout at Purimania so low. While students said local clubs have been more stringent as of late in examining IDs, some who went to Oracle on Saturday night said the club rejected anything that raised even the remotest suspicions, including some fake or expired IDs that students said had previously been almost foolproof.
Students said they had high hopes for the party because the Chanukah Ball, sponsored by several Jewish student groups and held at Oracle on Dec. 11, attracted over a hundred students and proved to be a very successful event.
But Oracle’s attention to detail last Saturday night made for a frustrating evening, they said, and some students suggested bouncers at the club were particularly stern because of rumors that the club, or perhaps a neighboring one, was to be inspected by authorities that evening for underage patrons. Because they were discussing criminal actions — the possession of fake IDs — the students spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“I guess they heard they were going to get raided and were ridiculous about IDs,” said one junior who, despite possessing a fake ID that “gets in everywhere,” was turned away from the party. “They were just like, ‘No, you’re not getting in, goodbye,’ … It was a huge disaster.”
While Oracle manager Joe McCarthy said his club has always strictly scrutinized IDs, he said area clubs and bars now have no choice but to exercise the utmost care in identifying fake IDs because police and state officials have cracked down on city clubs and bars in the past few months. Regardless of how high-quality a fake ID may be, police and LCD agents will be able to catch it, McCarthy said, and any run-in with the law will yield serious penalties for a club and its employees — as the state proved with its long suspension and hefty fine of Toad’s Place for violations uncovered a 2005 raid that caught 87 underaged patrons.
“Students don’t really comprehend that this is people’s livelihoods [at stake],” McCarthy said. “They can’t comprehend what a [90-day] closure and a $90,000 fine really is. It’s not just the club owners — it’s the entire staff that’s affected. People really don’t take that into account when they’re going somewhere with a fake ID … It’s no joke.”
City and LCD agents have conducted near-weekly raids at local bars and clubs in recent months, officials from several downtown establishments said. Agents from the LCD were lurking around Crown Street late Saturday, according to one club employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as to not draw attention to his employer, and an employee of a nearby bar who also spoke on the condition of anonymity said his establishment was raided on Friday night. He said did not know details of the raid or whether any underage patrons were present at the time.
LCD director John Suchy said on Monday that agents did not conduct any New Haven raids over the weekend, and an LCD spokeswoman could not be reached for further comment.
But the club employee said because the state only has a limited number of agents, staff at local bars and clubs have learned to recognize LCD officials, and he said he was certain some were present Saturday night. The employee said the LCD only acknowledges its surveillance when it successfully catches underage drinking or other violations.
New Haven Police Department spokeswoman Bonnie Winchester was unavailable for comment Monday.
“They haven’t done any inspections in our area in the last six years, and now they’re doing it nonstop,” said Frank Patrick, manager of BAR on Crown Street. “I think they need to balance it out a little bit … It’s pretty much been every week.”
When raids do occur, students who are cited by police for violating the state’s alcohol laws are liable to be punished by the University as well, even if their malfeasance comes at an off-campus bar or club, said Jill Cutler, assistant dean of Yale College and secretary of the Executive Committee, the top disciplinary body for undergraduates.
“It’s fairly common,” Cutler said. “It’s a general problem over the years because the drinking age is 21, and most Yale students are not 21.”
As long as the raids continue, underage students may need to change their weekend plans, at least until they reach the much-celebrated 21-year mark. Any club owner who wants to stay in business for the long run cannot turn a blind eye to fake IDs, regardless of how welcoming he may want to be toward students, McCarthy said.
“No one really realizes — [students] just want to say, ‘Why can’t we come in and have a good time?’ ” McCarthy said. “If the city’s going to be tough, then we’ve got to be tough.”