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Bennington Street pool hall ordered to go booze-free for one day for overcrowding on two nights

The Boston Licensing Board today ordered Billares Colombia, 28 Bennington St. to go without its liquor license for one day after police found it seriously overcrowded one June night and then found it exceeding its capacity just a week later.

At a hearing on Tuesday, a BPD officer said police responded to the hall, which has a liquor license, twice early on June 20, first to ask them to shut their front door because neighbors were complaining about noise and then again, when they returned on another noise complaint to do a formal "licensed premise inspection" - at which they found the place stuffed with at least 193 people even though its license has a maximum capacity of just 49.

A Billares manager told the board the place had a "private" event that night for Father's Day - at which customers were invited to come for free food to celebrate the day - and that the security company he had hired didn't know anything about capacity limits. He said when he arrived after being notified police were there, he immediately fired the company. "This was a big mistake," he acknowledged.

A week later, on June 27, police arrived again for another inspection and found Billares over capacity again, but this time by just three people. The manager said those three people were three extra security guards he had brought on to keep people out when the place reached capacity and a crowd of at least 1,000 people swarmed Bennington after a particular soccer match. Restaurant and club capacity limits include both customers and employees.

At their meeting today, board members said the two incidents combined - and coming on top of another overcrowding citation in February - meant the club warranted a one-day suspension. Board members agreed that if it had just been a case of exceeding capacity by three people, that would not have warranted such a stiff penalty. But given that it came just a week after what board Chairwoman Kathleen Joyce called an "egregious" violation of major overcrowding, "I don't believe licensee took first incident seriously enough," she said.

Joyce and other board members added they are tired of places using the excuse of getting hammered after major sporting events, which they said has also happened in the Fenway and near the Garden. "It's no longer a [valid] reason or excuse that it was a big game," Joyce said. "These things do not come as a surprise." The fact that Billares called in three security guards because it expected a huge crowd on Bennington means it knew what might have happened and should have been able to keep its capacity below its legal limit, she said.

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