The operator of Bananas restaurant and bar asked Cayman’s Liquor Licensing Board on Monday to revoke its nightclub status, in light of George Town’s spike in late-night, alcohol-related violence.
Vierka Polanco, who recently took over managing the bar, told the board that the club is struggling to contain partiers, who often arrive drunk from other locations, after bars close at 2am.
During the 2-4am window, she said, inebriated clients from other bars show up and attempt to crowd into the Eastern Avenue nightclub.
To avoid brawls in the parking lot, she said she would rather restrict the club’s liquor licence to permit a bar that closes at 2am, rather than a nightclub that closes two hours later.
“We’re trying our best not to have fights. We’re trying our best not to have people [crowd] inside drunk, but it’s kind of difficult for us,” Polanco said.
“I am the one who calls the police all the time. I call to let them know to please be outside for us at 3:45 because of the people outside. It’s not usually the people inside Bananas. It’s the people outside Bananas…
“It’s a problem for us. I know it’s a problem for the police.”
Mitchell Welds, former chairman of the board, represented the Bananas liquor licence-holder Robert Rivers and the property owner Luis Farez at the meeting. Rivers was not present.
Bananas tenant Juan Genao was not present either. Polanco said he is stuck in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, as a result of COVID-19 restrictions and that his absence has been a stressor for Bananas management.
Welds said one contributing factor to the violence is the way bars now operate.
“Some bars are operating just like nightclubs. There’s no difference when it comes to entertainment and what not. It’s only the hours,” Welds said.
Board chairman Noel Williams pushed back, saying that the nightclub also holds a certain responsibility.
“When you speak about people coming to your establishment drunk, it’s your responsibility as a licence holder not to serve those persons or not to even let them in,” Williams said.
Polanco added that denying entry to some individuals has resulted in further problems and fights outside the bar.
RCIPS Deputy Commissioner Kurt Walton acknowledged that late-night drinking has created serious concern among law enforcement.
“To be honest, we expect someone to be stabbed, shot or killed at Bananas,” Walton said.
He added that officers responded last weekend to reports that someone inside the club had a gun. The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service had not responded to a Cayman Compass request for more details on the incident by publication time.
The nightclub has a metal detector at its entrance and posts between two and four security guards at each entrance, Polanco said.
To respond to alcohol-related crime, Williams said the board has been in frequent meetings with police.
In a call to the Compass, he said the board works with police throughout the year to review reports and calls made against licensees.
“We don’t wait until something happens. We try to prevent it. If they have suggestions, we take suggestions. If there are any public concerns, we do meet and speak with them,” Williams told the Compass.
When weekend events and festivals are proposed, Williams said the board coordinates with law enforcement to determine what the policing and safety needs will be.
“I don’t approve any special events until we have the OK from fire, police and [Department of Environmental Health],” he said.
Over the last year, Williams said the board has met individually with all licensees to educate them on compliance to ensure that ignorance of the law is not submitted as an excuse for violations.
At the board annual general meeting on Monday, 632 items were on the agenda but only those requiring a new licence grant were required to appear in person. Twenty new requests for liquor licence grants and seven for music and dancing grants were presented. The remainder of applications regarded renewals or amendments.
For the first time, the meeting was streamed over YouTube and applicants were able to call in by Zoom.
Several new applicants ran into the issue of applying for the wrong type of licence. Williams said the board will not be able to approve many of those applications.
The board will now go individually through all of the requests made, Williams said, ahead of the expiration of liquor licences at the end of the month.