M.T. Pockets is open – and under investigation

North Buffalo bar, closed after patrons hurled racist insults at protestors, has reopened. But it's facing a state probe.

M.T. Pockets, the North Buffalo bar that closed earlier his month after its patrons shouted racist slurs at demonstrators rallying for police reform, has quietly reopened.

The Erie County Health Department cleared the Hertel Avenue bar to reopen Monday, after it submitted a plan to ensure the safety of patrons during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plywood that had covered its door and front windows has been removed and a limited number of patrons are being admitted.

Meanwhile, the State Liquor Authority told Investigative Post it opened an investigation into the bar earlier this month. Apparent violations of COVID-19 health and safety regulations triggered the probe. Other issues could come under review, an SLA spokesman said.

“What we saw was a disturbing incident,” said spokesman Bill Crowley. “But what we’re looking into is the health and safety violations.”  

A reporter from Investigative Post stopped by the bar Tuesday night and found the front door locked. A woman who answered the door said the bar is being careful about who is admitted due to death threats.

Investigative Post returned to the bar Wednesday afternoon. The door was unlocked and about 10 patrons were eating and drinking.

The bar, co-owned by Philip Alagna, a retired sewer authority employee and husband of  New York State Supreme Court Justice Diane Devlin. He is a prolific Democratic donor and the bar has been used to stage numerous fundraisers for Democratic Party candidates.

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The bar’s liquor license is up for renewal Nov. 1. A “renewal notice” posted to the front door of the bar says, “any person wishing to furnish information to comment on this application may do so in writing.” Comments can be addressed to Attention: Renewals, State Liquor Authority, 80 South Swan Street, Suite 900, Albany, NY 12210.

The timing is coincidental with the Sept. 1 incident. The bar first filed for its liquor license in 1994, according to the authority’s online public database

The bar has been shuttered since Sept. 2, the day after people at the bar were recorded on video hurling racist insults and taunts, including use of the “n-word,” during a protest march that paused in front of the bar. 

Alagna’s brother, Alessio Alagna, who works for the Buffalo Sewer Authority, mooned the crowd. He was subsequently suspended by the Sewer Authority.

Bar owners later apologized for the incident in a statement that read in part: “We do not condone racism or violence.”

The Erie County Department of Health’s Division of Environmental Services began an investigation after the videos surfaced. The department said the review was triggered by videos of maskless patrons on an overcrowded patio. 

Kara Kane, a spokesperson for the Health Department, said no further action was required. The owners requested a letter acknowledging their new safety plan. The department obliged, according to Kane, who said the measures the bar took were all voluntary. The Health Department letter said the bar “may open” Sept. 28. 

“Neither a review of the safety plan nor the letter was required,” Kane said.

The Sept. 1 march was in response to a prior incident on Hertel Avenue near the bar. On Aug. 28, a Franklinville man, Michael Cremen, was arrested after witnesses said he yelled racial slurs and harangued protestors to stay out of “my neighborhood.” Cremen, 47, was also photographed wielding a knife. He now faces hate crime charges.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this story included quotes attributed to Philip Alagna, a co-owner of M.T. Pockets. An Investigative Post reporter visited the bar Wednesday afternoon, was told Alagna was not there, and left his business card, asking that the owner call him. About two hours later, someone who identified himself as Alagna called Investigative Post and granted a brief interview, which was the source of the quotes.

After publication, Alagna contacted the reporter and claimed he had not spoken with anyone from Investigative Post, that the caller had misrepresented himself. Upon further review, Investigative Post believes Alagna’s denial is credible and we have removed quotes attributed to him. We are attempting to establish who the initial caller was.