A judge has held that there was "no alternative" but to refuse to grant the Berlin D2 bar the renewal of its operating licences due to a “boozy brunch” that went viral on social media.
Footage of punters and staff flouting covid-19 regulations guidelines went viral online after the event on Aug. 15 last.
The event, advertised as a “Very Boozy Baked Brunch With Your Buds”, took place in the popular bar restaurant on Dame Lane in Dublin city-centre.
One masked staff member danced on the bar as he poured shots into dancing customers’ mouths during the controversial bar brunch event which ran from 1pm to 4pm. It had a DJ and was attended by 46 guests.
Reacting to the backlash, former manager, businessman Jay Bourke, had described it as “30 seconds of madness” when he commented to the media.
The bar shut for a week and staff underwent a day of retraining. An apology was later put on the front window saying “sorry, we messed up”.
Garda Inspector John Finucane, based at Pearse station, formally lodged an objection to the renewal of bar’s various annual licences. The venue, which employed 30 staff and is owned by Trillium Leisure Ltd, opposed the objection.
Delivering her ruling today at Dublin District Court, Judge Marie Quirke ruled that it was necessary to refuse the renewal of the bar's restaurant, theatre, dance, public music and singing licences.
Judge Quirke gave a scathing criticism of the running of the venue.
She held that the event was clearly in breach of public health guidelines necessitated by the covid-19 pandemic. She outlined a series of issues about how the bar was ran during and after the event.
Management and systems in place were not fit for purpose.
The bar admitted the breaches.
There was no system to prevent intermingling. Masks were not worn uniformly by staff. Social distancing was not in place. Drinks were served from the counter and not at tables.
“This court finds the conduct neglectful, irresponsible, disorderly, indifferent to the guidelines and constituted mismanagement of the venue,” she said.
She noted that two directors did not make themselves available to gardai, however, a shareholder, Jay Bourke, and a manager did meet with gardai and provided their CCTV footage. There was full co-operation, she remarked.
Afterwards the venue expressed remorse in an apology put on the front window saying “sorry, we messed up”. There was a stated commitment to redress the breaches that had occurred.
However, two undercover customs officers went to check compliance at the venue on Sept. 10 last.
At first, they found the premises was following regulations, but when their 105 minute limit had been reached a waitress and a manager on their own initiative proposed that if they so desired they could remain for a further 105 minutes. A new till receipt could be used.
This evidence was not contradicted, Judge Quirke noted.
“In fact, I find the applicant, in full knowledge, had the intention to breach the guidelines and mislead authorities, and had a scheme in place for that intention. This was despite the outcry over the Aug. 15 event,” she said.
This, she said, aggravated and compounded the breaches.
The bar’s statement of remorse was not born out by its actions and in fact disproved commitment for proper management and orderly compliance. She said that it was necessary to refuse the application to renew the bar’s licences and there was no alternative available.
The ruling follows two days of evidence from witnesses and viewing of CCTV footage during the hearing last month.
The venue’s barrister Dorothy Collins (instructed by solicitor Ursula Courtney), told Judge Quirke that Mr Bourke ceased involvement in running the bar.
It was conceded that three public health guidelines were breached, however, the bar’s lawyers pointed out that no law was broken. Directors and management also apologised in court.
Tony McGillicuddy BL, for An Garda Siochana, submitted that the restaurant was more concerned about the social media reaction than the public health risks or the possibility the event was a potential covid-19 superspreader.
During the hearing, Berlin D.2 manager Stephen McCusker told the court the restaurant bar employed 30 staff and about 150 artists were allowed to perform there. Events were also held for various charities and causes, and the venue contributed to Dublin’s cultural life, he said.
Jay Bourke’s role was to be an advisor to help make contacts with various businesses but he is no longer involved.
Two other staff members were suspended for a week after the event.
The backlash after the event was 95 per cent negative, involved verbal abuse and staff were frightened, he had said. Representatives of the company and their lawyers met with gardai.
An apology was later put on the front window saying “sorry, we messed up”, he told the court.
He said he had expected the event promoter would use a DJ and it did not concern him. There were 46 people over two sittings, but the customers arrived intermittently.
Mr McCusker accepted there were breaches of social distance guidelines.
Mr McCusker agreed he had spoken to the undercover custom officers and he did not challenge their evidence.
Front of house manager John Duggan claimed he tried to prevent customers leaving designated areas and to usher them back to their tables. He admitted he made mistakes, but said he reprimanded Brazilian barman Bernardo Quinn for pouring drinks while standing on the counter. Mr Quinn has since left Ireland and returned to South America, the court was told.
Mr Duggan could not remember specific incidents where he stopped people’s courses of action or customers getting served at the bar, he admitted to Mr McGillicuddy.
He also admitted he did not bring any concerns to Mr McCusker, his line manager, about lack of adherence to social distance guidelines.
The court heard gardaí, the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA), Bord Failte and the restaurant association of Ireland issued guidelines which were well publicised. There were also media reports that gardai would object to licences of premises that broke them.
Trillium Leisure Ltd director Simon Blake Knox, said Berlin D2 was not a member of the LVA or the restaurant association. A large investment would be lost if Berlin D.2 lost the case, he had said.
Fiona Kelly, also a director, said Bord Failte guidelines were followed as much as possible, and she was sorry. “There was so much we could have done better during that event, there has been such a high price to pay, and the repercussions on people’s mental health. It could have been done better,” she said.
She did not reply when asked if she was concerned it could have been a super-spreader event. She accepted, however, that the covid-19 risk increased if there was non-compliance with guidelines.