M.T. Pockets gets liquor license renewed

State approves continued operation of North Buffalo bar that was the scene of racist incident last month. Protestors didn't contest license renewal.

Two months after an ugly altercation between bar patrons and Black Lives Matter demonstrators, M.T. Pockets remains open for business.

In fact, the State Liquor Authority has just renewed the North Buffalo establishment’s liquor license for the next two years. 

At the same time, the authority has charged M.T. Pockets with two violations: “operating disorderly premises” and “failure to supervise.” The charges are a result of the Sept. 1 confrontation, according to Bill Crowley, an authority spokesman.

The SLA opened an investigation shortly after the incident, Crowley told Investigative Post last month. At the time, Crowley said, the SLA was focused on “health and safety violations,” including violations of state COVID policies. However, he said, other issues would come under review in the course of the investigation. 

Thus, the charges stemming from the Sept. 1 disturbance. 

Bar owners must “exercise reasonable diligence and provide adequate supervision over the conduct of…licensed premises and…patrons,” according to SLA guidelines

“What we saw was a disturbing incident,” Crowley told Investigative Post at the time.

On the evening of Sept. 1, demonstrators demanding police reforms marched down Hertel Avenue. When the marchers reached M.T. Pockets, near the corner of Wellington Road, the bar’s patrons poured onto the sidewalk and into the street to confront them.

The bar’s patrons shouted racist taunts and threats of violence. Police formed a line to separate the two groups.

Among the unruly crowd on the bar side of the police cordon was M.T. Pockets  owner Philip Alagna, a retired Buffalo Sewer Authority worker and the husband of New York State Supreme Court Justice Diane Devlin. Alagna is one of two men named on the bar’s liquor license.

Also taking part was Alagna’s brother, Alessio, a current sewer authority employee. During the confrontation, Alessio Alagna dropped his pants and mooned the demonstrators. The sewer authority suspended him the following day.

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The Erie County Health Department launched an investigation into possible COVID policy violations during the altercation. Previously, the Health Department had received three COVID-related complaints about the bar — one in June and two in July.

The bar issued an apology and voluntarily closed its doors on Sept. 2 in order to prepare a COVID safety plan. That plan was accepted by the Health Department three weeks later, and the bar quietly reopened.

Meanwhile, the SLA’s investigation continued. The two violations were charged Oct. 2, according to Crowley, the SLA spokesman. Under SLA guidelines, the bar’s owners may plead no contest, negotiate a settlement, or seek an administrative hearing. Each violation can result in a fine of up to $10,000, as well as suspension, cancellation or revocation of the license. Revocation prohibits a bar owner from re-applying for a license for two years.

Philip Alagna, the bar’s owner, did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Crowley said the SLA’s license renewal and disciplinary processes are separate functions. License renewal, he said, is “principally an administrative function.”

“Licensed businesses that apply for renewal in a timely fashion are often renewed,” Crowley told Investigative Post.

In the immediate aftermath of the event, Crowley told Investigative Post that the SLA had not cited M.T. Pockets for any violations in the previous 20 years. The bar’s liquor license dates to 1994.

A notice posted in September on M.T. Pockets’ boarded-up door indicated the bar’s liquor license was up for renewal on Nov. 1. The notice included instructions for submitting written comments to the SLA regarding the application. 

Crowley told Investigative Post earlier this week that the SLA received no comments from the public regarding the license renewal.