Jay Peeples

The Abbey has had a series of underage drinking complaints since 2013, according to the State Liquor Authority.

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In the city that never sleeps, the recent repeal of the city’s Cabaret Law is a landmark event for some night-owls. But other parts of nighttime New York have their own stories. Produced in partnership with the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, this story is part of a series looking at some elements of the city that exists after dark.
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On the front doors of The Abbey Pub on the Upper West Side, two large signs welcome patrons: “Have IDs ready to be Scanned” and “21 and over only.”

Inside the pub on recent visits, though, patrons were served without hassle as neither the bartender nor waitress requested identification. Discussions of undergrad term papers and selecting classes for the next semester dominated the main room. The large center table was occupied by Columbia freshmen and their beer bottles. “We love it here! We love anywhere that will let us in. We don’t even need fake IDs here,” said Dana Weingarten, 19, a Columbia freshman.

The Abbey has been filling its dimly lit wooden booths with enthusiastic and boisterous young local students for years, patrons and former patrons said. Students and neighborhood residents said it’s long been a mecca for underage drinkers. Owner Paul Holland did not return requests for comment.

But the Abbey has had a series of underage drinking complaints since 2013, according to the State Liquor Authority. In 2013, two complaints led to a December hearing as well as a $2,500 fine. In 2014 the pub was fined $8,000, SLA records show. The most recent complaint came in September 2017, with a hearing scheduled for Dec. 28.

Laura Bauman-Shalem, 33, a former student at Dwight, an Upper West Side private school, recalls frequenting the Irish pub with her high school classmates: “I remember going every weekend. We looked like we were 12. I think we actually were 12. They had to have known.”

Located at 237 West 105th St., the Abbey has been open since 1969. From the outside, it closely resembles the other handful of nearby Irish pubs: a small grouping of benches makes up the smoking section that sits beneath a large awning, illuminated by a large green neon sign that flashes the pub’s name. Inside, the pub is filled with a mixture of energetic young drinkers and significantly older regulars, though the two groups seem not to interact with each other. The atmosphere is dark, but relatively quiet and comfortably accommodating.

Local parents say they are aware the bar serves underage drinkers. “I had actually known about it through my oldest son, so by the time my youngest went I was well aware. I was surprised they had been able to find somewhere to drink right in the neighborhood as high school students,” says Pamela Berns, a local mother of two sons who frequented The Abbey during their high school years, just over 10 years ago.

During the 2013 annual Halloween Party, local police closed the pub. Attendees’ Facebook posts from that night described being ushered out by police officers who proceeded to shut down the establishment. The bar staff offered no explanation, the posts said. The pub reopened that November, after Holland encouraged patrons to reach out to Community Board 7 to voice their support.

The Abbey Pub’s Facebook page reveals posts saying the bar would be shut “due to circumstances beyond our control” at least five times over the past five years. The most recent closing was in 2015. Police at the 24th precinct did not respond to questions about the closures. A bartender on shift offered only a shrug and a knowing smile when asked about the failure to check IDs.