Flunking a Bar Exam

After the killing of Imette St. Guillen, scrutiny for the Falls dynasty

Michael Dorrian was pacing back and forth inside his now infamous Falls bar in Soho, stopping occasionally to peer through the curtains at the media circus parked on his doorstep. It was Friday, March 10, two weeks to the day since Imette St. Guillen, a dean's list student at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, had her last drink in Dorrian's place before her ravaged body turned up near the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn.

Now Dorrian's whole block was lined with TV news trucks, come to see the dozen protesters demanding the bar answer to charges of misleading police and hiring Darryl Littlejohn, a seven-time violent felon who is now the prime suspect in the rape and murder of the 24-year-old St. Guillen. It's illegal for bars to employ felons.

"The Dorrian family hired a career criminal for a bouncer. Why?" demanded one of the neon-green signs demonstrators waved for the cameras. Another took a shot at Michael Dorrian's younger brother, who was managing the bar the night St. Guillen was killed.

"Daniel Dorrian, why did you lie to police? What are you hiding?" the sign demanded. According to news reports, Daniel first told police he hadn't seen St. Guillen that night, then claimed she'd left the bar alone. Police sources quoted in the press said Daniel waited nearly a week before telling detectives he'd ordered Littlejohn to escort St. Guillen out the bar's side entrance just after closing time. He reportedly heard arguing outside, then a muffled scream.

"Anyone who would stonewall police has a lot to answer to and certainly does not deserve a liquor license," Sean Sweeney of the Soho Alliance told the news crews, before launching into a tirade about the proliferation of rowdy and irresponsible bars in his district.

Inside the Falls, about 20 regulars and family faithful did their best to ignore the fracas, tipping back pints and watching basketball on the widescreen TV as generic '80s rock thumped from the speakers. Michael Dorrian huddled at the end of the long wooden bar with a group of male friends who were joking with him and slapping him on the back, as if keeping their chins up could dispel the ignominy of this crime and the mounting demands to shutter the bar.

"I can't say anything about anything," Michael responded with an exasperated shrug, his face flushed, when asked about the public crucifixion of his family's bar dynasty.

State Liquor Authority records, though, have plenty to say. The files for the Falls and other bars and restaurants owned by members of the Dorrian family reveal that since 1996, the SLA has fined the family's enterprises a total of $29,500, for 19 offenses.

Nine of the incidents took place at Dorrian's Red Hand, the Upper East Side drinking mill made famous by the so-called "preppy murder" in Central Park. As many have noted, that 1986 killing bears an eerie similarity to the police's primary theory about St. Guillen's; it involves yet another beautiful young woman—Jennifer Levin—who was strangled by a man she'd met at a Dorrian-owned bar.

Family patriarch Jack Dorrian courted controversy when he put his family's East Side townhouse up as collateral on $150,000 bail for Robert Chambers. Chambers was 19 at the time he killed Levin, but was nonetheless considered a regular at the bar. Three months after the killing, the SLA suspended the Red Hand's license for 10 days when the bar was caught serving minors; that suspension was eventually overturned. A decade later, without acknowledging wrongdoing, the family paid a $100,000 out-of-court settlement to Levin's parents, who'd sued the bar for illegally serving alcohol to Chambers.

SLA records indicate a continued slew of offenses, some standard for a bar, others more likely to halt a raised glass. The Red Hand has been popped numerous times for noise and disorderly premises—no big surprise for a saloon—but in 1998 was also cited for a violation known as "improper brand label." An SLA spokesperson explained that the bar had substituted one brand for another. The bar was cited for operating outside of licensed business hours in 2000 and 2003. And in 1997, it paid a fine of $10,000 for filing false tax returns.

Rebar and Suite 16, two former Chelsea nightclubs that Michael and brother John Dorrian operated at 127 Eighth Avenue under the corporate name Mac Daddy Inc., were together cited 10 times for violations that included "refilling/contaminated bottles" and selling to a minor. Rebar was cited for four assaults or altercations there between January 1998 and November 1999.

The family's trendy Park Avenue eatery Barna came out clean, as did Il Posto Accanto, the wine bar Michael recently sold in the East Village.

The Falls, which Michael opened with Daniel and chef John Kekalos in 2004, was cited on January 14, 2006, for selling booze to a minor. It has until March 29 to answer this charge. Meanwhile, outrage over management's conduct in the investigation intensified last week with the revelation that a second bouncer working at the club had a violent record. That bouncer, now a key witness for the prosecution, was also on duty the night St. Guillen disappeared.

The NYPD has asked the SLA to suspend its investigation of the Falls while the criminal investigation of St. Guillen's death is under way. Police have not said yet whether the bar or Daniel Dorrian could face charges.

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