Zappala shuts down South Side lounge

8-29 News - Levelz (photo-aw)
Photo by Aaron Warnick | Photo Editor. Levelz Sports Lounge sits on East Carson Street with a padlock on its doors. The owners ot the lounge signed a consent agreement with district attorney Stephen Zappala to keep the establishment closed until next August.

By Julian Routh | News Editor

Following several meetings with the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, the owners of Levelz Sports Lounge in South Side have reached an agreement to close the bar’s doors for a year.

The consent agreement between Levelz owners Mark Heuer, Joseph Molinaro, Dino Pietrantoni and Drew Ziccardi and district attorney Stephen Zappala, documented on Aug. 16, denies the owners the right to reopen the establishment’s doors until Aug. 2, 2014.

With oversight by Zappala, the owners are permitted to sell or lease the property to a third party and transfer their liquor license.

The bar, which has resided on East Carson Street since Dec. 2010, has gained its reputation as “the poster child” of problems in the business district, according to city councilman Bruce Kraus.

“Levelz has been chronically problematic from the day they opened the doors,” Kraus said.

From Jan. 2011 through July 2013, there had been approximately 33 documented criminal incidents at Levelz, each resulting in reports from the Pittsburgh Police Department. Among these incidents were instances of violence, theft, public intoxication and disorderly or obscene conduct.

The most recent, on July 27, resulted in Zappala shutting down the establishment a week later. Early that morning, 41-year-old Manuel Carde Freiria stabbed two patrons, one an off-duty Levelz employee, after an argument about being allowed to smoke in the establishment, police said.

Police Zone 3 Commander Cathy McNeilly, who oversees police efforts in South Side, said Levelz was requiring “many of our resources” to deal with the problems in the establishment.

“We can’t be dedicating that much to one place that often,” McNeilly said. “If a club can’t come into compliance and police itself, we can’t be doing it for them.”

In the two years before its closing, Levelz was cited seven times by Liquor Control Enforcement, according to the case filing. These citations include sales to minors, after hours violations, loud music and gambling.

According to Kraus, his office, along with Zappala and McNeilly, had numerous meetings with the lounge’s owners in the past year.

“[The owners] had every opportunity to clean their act up and run a responsible establishment, and they chose not to,” Kraus said. “What happened at Levelz was of their own doing.”

To improve bar and restaurant safety in South Side, groups like the South Side Chamber of Commerce are encouraging businesses to “be proactive” in addressing problems facing nightlife in the area, president Kim Collins said.

“There are many bars and restaurants in South Side that are doing it the right way,” Collins said. “Bars like Levelz were run irresponsibly.”

Kraus also said his and Zappala’s offices “are not being prohibitionists,” but instead sending the message that if a bar is going to operate with an alcohol license, they are going to do so legally.

“Businesses are welcome to be here, and we like the fact that people like to come here,” Kraus said. “But there’s a standard, and you are going to be held to the standard. And that standard’s going to be the law.”