The dancing and revelry typical of Toad’s Place were interrupted for about half an hour Saturday night as state police raided the nightclub in search of alcohol violations.
Officers from both the Connecticut Liquor Control Commission and the New Haven Police Department raided the popular York Street club at approximately 11:30 p.m. Saturday. Toad’s owner Brian Phelps said the commission found two underage patrons consuming liquor and possibly using fake identification. Connecticut Consumer Protection Commissioner Jerry Farrell Jr., who chairs the Liquor Control Commission, said it is too soon to know the consequences of the raid.
Although Phelps said he does not know what could happen as a result of Saturday’s bust, he speculated that Toad’s could be fined. Phelps said the club can defend itself if the underage patrons who caught drinking had used fake identification cards. Under Connecticut State law, businesses that sell alcohol and use “transaction scan devices” to screen identification cards — as Toad’s does — may be exempt from state penalties as long as the devices read fake IDs as valid and employees who physically check the cards exercise “reasonable diligence” in attempting to confirm their validity.
The search comes as City Hall considers cracking down on underage nightlife; Ward 3 Alderwoman Jacqueline James-Evans last week proposed legislation to ban all patrons under age 21 from clubs that serve alcohol.
Although Farrell said he does not know why Toad’s in particular was raided last night, he said the state has been working with the NHPD “quite a bit lately” on clubs in the area.
In December, Farrell suspended the liquor permit of Sinergy on Crown Street, and the club shut down. It reopened last week as the sports bar Crown Street Bar and Grill, where all patrons must be at least 21 years old or accompanied by a parent or guardian.
John Suchy, director of the state’s Liquor Control Division, declined to comment when reached Sunday. NHPD spokesman Joe Avery did not respond to an e-mail request for comment over the weekend.
“We won’t be responding to any questions today regarding Toad’s Place until we have an opportunity to see the reports [on the raids],” Suchy said.
Patrons interviewed who were in the club during the raid said the music stopped and the lights came on at 11:30 p.m. Devin Covitz, a sophomore at Quinnipiac University, said most of the exits to the club were blocked off during the raid. By midnight, the club was nearly empty.
“My friends and I were dancing when all of a sudden the lights went on and the police busted in,” Quinnipiac University freshman Sara LeDuc said while standing on Elm Street. “I had no idea what was going on.”
Others interviewed said they were bothered that the raid interrupted their Saturday night.
“I was dancing, having a good time, and now I’m not,” Quinnipiac University sophomore Zachary Smith said Saturday night.
But by 12:30a.m., witnesses said, the street was back to normal, and only one ambulance and police car remained outside.
“It was much less crowded than usual when I showed up around 12:50, but it seemed normal enough,” Eduardo Andino ’13 added.
This past Saturday night was not Toad’s first encounter with state officials enforcing liquor laws. In November 2005, state authorities detained 87 underage patrons at the club, though none was arrested. Toad’s and the LCC did not reach an agreement until November 2006. The raid ultimately resulted in a $90,000 fine and a 90-day forced suspension during the summer of 2007.
Before that, Toad’s was raided in September 2001 and served with a $25,000 fine. After the 2001 raid, the club was forced to shut down for a week because of 12 violations of Connecticut liquor laws. Phelps said Saturday that raids like this past weekend’s are “very nerve-racking.”
Naples Pizzeria on Wall Street (which later closed and was replaced by Wall Street Pizza & Restaurant) was also raided by New Haven police in March 2001. Naples, whose liquor license was permanently revoked, had to pay $12,500 in fines to the state Liquor Control Division.
Six Yale students interviewed Sunday night said the raid would not change how they approach spending a night at Toad’s in the future.
Charles Chu ’12 said he thinks the event was an isolated incident and “out of the ordinary,” and that it therefore would not affect his habits.
Toad’s has occupied its location at 300 York St. since 1975. In January 2009, the club changed its policies to allow 19-and 20-year-olds to be admitted for an entry fee.
Jordi Gassó contributed reporting.
Correction: Feb. 10, 2010
An earlier version of this article misreported the date of the 2001 raid on Naples Pizzeria. Naples was raided in March, not October. The article also did not intend to suggest that Wall Street Pizza & Restaurant, which now occupies Naples’ former location, did not have a liquor license.