Sake bombing students’ options just got a little slimmer: Samurai has stopped serving students alcohol.
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Samurai made the decision to stop serving all alcoholic beverages, even to those with valid over-21 identification, after four underage students were caught drinking by a New Haven police officer Thursday. The New Haven Police Department did not order Samurai to stop serving alcohol, said police spokesman Joe Avery. Yale students said the decision to stop serving alcohol may impact Samurai’s popularity and that the restaurant is notoriously lax in checking student identification before serving alcohol.
“It’s a very big hassle for us, because for the workers here, our English isn’t very good,” Samurai chef and supervisor David Zhu said.
Zhu said that one student Thursday night originally showed him an ID giving a birth year of 1988, but that when a police officer entered the restaurant and asked for IDs, the student presented the officer with a different, presumably real ID, which indicated that he was actually born in 1992. He added that he did not know for certain whether the students caught Thursday were from Yale.
Avery said that he was not aware of the exact incident Thursday night to which Zhu was referring. He added that the police checkup was not part of any special initiative.
“[Underage drinking] is illegal, and it adds to some of the problems in the downtown bar district,” Avery said. “Pretty plain and simple.”
Although Zhu said that Samurai has a policy of checking identification for all its customers, he added that the restaurant does not have a way of verifying student IDs. Seven students said that many underage Yalies have been served alcohol at Samurai, either with fake IDs or, sometimes, without IDs at all.
Jesse Hassinger ’11 said that Samurai, in his experience, has been lax with IDs.
“I’ve seen them not card, I’ve seen them card and I’ve seen them been handed really awful fake IDs,” Hassinger said. “Really all they need is for you to hand them a card with a face and a name. That seems to be the extent to which they cared.”
Four freshmen, who asked to remain anonymous because they are under the legal drinking age, said in interviews that they had been served sake bombs at Samurai this fall.
One of the freshmen said that she has visited Samurai four times and never once been carded.
“We would usually just order sake bombs and cocktails with our crunchy spicy tuna rolls as if it were nothing,” she said.
Another freshman added that Samurai has a reputation of “being an easy place to get sake bombs while underage.”
The restaurant owner, James Shen, ordered his employees to stop serving alcohol on Friday after hearing about the incident the previous day, Zhu said.
“If the police come in, we get in a lot of trouble for serving underage students, so we decided to stop selling alcohol altogether,” Zhu said. Samurai still has its liquor license, and the decision to remove alcohol from the menu was entirely the owner’s, he added. Although students will not be served alcohol, he said, Samurai may make exceptions for “distinguished older guests” who clearly appear over 40 years old.
The owner of Samurai, who is currently in Shanghai, was unavailable for comment.
A sophomore, who has also gone sake bombing at Samurai without an ID, said that she believes Samurai’s decision to stop serving alcohol to students will hurt its business. “A lot of people went to Samurai to sake bomb, and then maybe would get some food too. But they didn’t go with the sole purpose of eating,” she said.
“I think it bodes pretty poorly for their business, since sake bombing is the one reason to go to Samurai,” Stephanie Cheng ’11 said.
“Samurai has terrible food. There is no way that restaurant will be able to stay out of the red without identifying themselves as a haven for underage sake bombing,” Chloe Gordon ’11 added.
Zhu said that he hopes Samurai’s business will stay afloat, since Samurai’s prices are “already the lowest in town.” He added that they might add an “all-you-can-eat” menu to attract more customers.
“Samurai is fun, sake bombing is fun, but there is always Miya’s,” Hassinger said.
Samurai has been open in New Haven for 19 years.