In an early episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the bartenders notice a rise in underage patrons at their bar.
True to the show’s backwards morals and silly shtick, they decide to make a profit on these young teenagers. Instead, they find themselves thrown into high school’s petty antics, vying for popularity among the youngsters. After a while, they want to rid themselves of the hierarchy and end up kicking the kids out.
All over Philadelphia today, bars and “bring-your-own”s admit underage teenagers, but for some of them, it’s getting to be more trouble than it’s worth.
A few weeks ago, 6ABC broke a story of El Azteca, a Mexican restaurant and popular BYO in Center City with lax drinking rules. Located at Seventh and Chestnut streets, it became a prime location for students to bring a bottle of tequila and mix up a couple of margaritas.
That is, until Pennsylvania State Police and the Liquor Control Board raided the restaurant Oct. 27 and cited six minors for underage drinking, including one using a fake ID.
This is not the first time that a Philly BYO was punished for its lenient drinking policies. Police found more than 100 minors in Dr. Watson’s Pub in Center City on a Saturday morning in March 2005. The pub was forced to shut down and opened the following year under a new name, new management and new drinking policies.
Thankfully for El Azteca, the restaurant survived its police debacle relatively unscathed – the store was just given a slap on the wrist and was told to change its ways.
What El Azteca did not escape from is the spotlight of local media. Television stations and blogs reported, analyzed and exaggerated the story until they were blue in the face. Restaurant owner Barbara Agular was glad to give some details to help dispel rumors and separate fact from fiction.
For example, many people claimed that authorities shut down El Azteca. But Agular said police simply told management to instate a more stringent alcohol policy.
Before the incident, Agular said that their clientele was mostly college-aged. The antics of the rowdy and drunken students forced management to enforce new rules, such as a $25 fee if a patron vomited in the restaurant. Proceeds went to the busboy who would have to clean the mess. Customers were also asked to leave a credit card number to help decrease the frequency of dine-and-ditchers.
There was also a policy that required one member of the party to claim that they were 21 and pledge that the rest of the group was of age, too. Agular said she came up with that policy after she contacted Philadelphia’s Licenses & Inspections and inquired about BYO jurisdiction. Much to her dismay, there was none.
“My biggest problem [with this incident is that] there is no coordination between state and local government,” Agular said. “There are no guidelines for BYOs.”
“We never knowingly let underage people drink at this restaurant,” manager Travis Waldron said.
Karen Elvir, 19, a sophomore English education major, has gotten away with drinking at El Azteca in the past. She went there last year for her former roommate’s birthday and her friends brought a bottle of tequila.
“We just handed the bottle to the waiter and he mixed us pitchers of margaritas. He didn’t ask any of us our ages,” Elvir said. “I guess they assume if you can bring the alcohol, then you’re old enough to buy it. The restaurant was filled with other college students drinking, too. Some were underage, some weren’t. You can’t really tell sometimes.”
Agular said every person with alcohol in tow will be carded from this point forward. If one person in a group is underage, they will need to sit at a separate table from the alcohol. If no one in the group can produce an ID, then no one can drink. Agular said they haven’t received any complaints about their new policies.
El Azteca opened nine years ago, but Agular noticed an influx of younger college students just in the past five years. She thought nothing of it.
“We’re a restaurant,” she said. “We focus on food, not alcohol.”
Despite the incident, Agular said business is booming as usual. The restaurant is even drawing older crowds because the atmosphere is less disruptive and disorderly. She said she thinks things have changed for the better.
If the restaurant owner is happy with the outcome, then who is the victim in this situation? The underage college student, of course. But don’t worry: there are plenty of other BYOs all over the city that have snuck under the radar of law enforcement. If you’re underage and need your alcoholic fix, though, it’s probably a better idea to stick to the college parties or get a fake ID.
Ilana Miller can be reached at Ilana.firstname.lastname@example.org.