17 October 2007

sunday bartenders rest easy

last month in nearby red hook, there were back to back brazen daylight robberies at local watering holes bait & tackle and moonshine. all us sunday bartenders were wary, especially since the bartender at bait & tackle was tied up at gunpoint in her first (and last) month of bartending.

but this afternoon the new york times reports that the thieves have been apprehended -- after going back to the bar to have a drink! read on.

Bartender Snaps a String of Tavern Holdups

The robbers carried guns into dark bars in broad daylight on back-to-back Sundays in Red Hook, the ballyhooed next-great-neighborhood of Brooklyn that has stubbornly maintained much of its gritty charm and, with it, danger.

News of the first holdup spread quickly: On Sept. 23, shortly after 2 p.m., two men entered Red Hook Bait and Tackle on Van Brunt Street, as laid-back a tavern as they come, with lots of mounted fish and taxidermy specimens. The bartender, a woman, was alone in the place, cleaning a restroom and just opening for the day. The men asked to use a restroom, and when they returned, one was wearing a mask and the other a bandanna over his face, and both held black handguns.

They bound the woman’s hands with duct tape, and stretched another piece over her mouth, the police said. The men took more than $1,000 — the exact amount was not provided by the police. The men then fled in a gray sport utility vehicle, the police said.

The bartender banged on neighbors’ doors until someone opened up and untaped her, said another bartender at Red Hook Bait and Tackle, who, fearful of a suspect still at large, gave his name only as Chris P., 30.

The following Sunday, Sept. 30, the men struck again, the police said, this time at Moonshine, a bar nearby on Columbia Street. About 3 p.m., one man entered, used the bathroom, left the bar and returned wearing a hat pulled low and with another man in a mask.

“They made my customer lay on the floor,” said the bartender, Marni Ludwig, 31. “They held a gun to my head and I gave them the money. They were angry that I didn’t have more money.” The men fled with less than $1,000, again in an S.U.V., the police said.

But this time, surveillance cameras photographed the first man as he approached the bathroom, showing a distinctive teardrop tattoo on his face, said Sgt. Joseph LaBella of the 76th Precinct detective squad. Officers circulated a sketch of the man in area bars.

The next Sunday passed without incident. Then, this past Sunday, Chris P., the bartender at Bait and Tackle, was killing the last minutes of his shift, which took him into the early hours of Monday, with seven or eight friends.

“It’s about 3 a.m.,” he said yesterday. “I see a man and a woman walk in the bar.”

“I notice he has the teardrop by his eye,” Chris said. “I think, ‘This is definitely the suspect.’ They ordered some shots of tequila. They wanted limes and salt.”

Chris said he went to the end of the bar and told a friend, “who happened to be one of the more sober people in the place, to call the cops. I told him in a hushed voice.”

Chris said he tried to act natural while his friend stepped outside to call 911. But then the man with the tattoo suddenly got up. “He leaves the bar,” Chris recalled, while Chris’s friend “is outside calling the police on him.”

The man returned with his hand curled in the bottom part of his shirt, and Chris said he thought he had a gun. He approached the couple. “I said, ‘Guys, if you don’t need anything, I’m just going to use the bathroom,’” Chris said. He, too, called the police, and returned.

The man rose again, this time for the men’s room, where Chris figures he got a good look at his own police sketch, for he quickly left the bar without a word to the woman, Chris said.

Chris said he told his friend to lock the door. “He locks the door. I go over to the woman and say, ‘Do you need anything?’ She asks for another piece of lime for her tequila.”

Then Chris and his friend and a manager of the bar slipped outside, where two of them pulled down metal gates over the front of the bar and the third held the door shut as the woman, who had unlocked it from the inside, was trying to leave, Chris said.

The police found the man hiding under a parked car down the street, and arrested him and the woman, Sergeant LaBella said. The suspect, Luis Rodriguez, 26, of the Bronx, was charged with three counts of robbery. The woman was not charged. The second man remains at large, the police said. The police found the S.U.V. and a handgun inside it, Sgt. LaBella said.

In Red Hook yesterday, Chris and his friends walked the awkward gait that combines patting oneself on the back with looking over one’s shoulder. “We did a little detective work. It was nice,” he said, but added that the robberies were a reminder: “It’s still a little shady. You have to keep an eye on your surroundings.”

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