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Downey's, after operating underground, goes legit

A deal struck Monday with the city has allowed it to reopen.

You can't keep Downey's down.

The landmark restaurant at Front and South Streets is back in business.

Legally, anyway.

City inspectors last week shut down the restaurant after they observed orders being prepared for delivery via Grubhub - more than a year after its food license had lapsed, officials told me.

On Monday, with a "candy-stripe" cease-operations notice on his door, owner Domenic Centofanti apparently struck a deal with the city Revenue Department to regain permission to operate and, in return, agree to repay unspecified back taxes. (Businesses that owe back taxes cannot renew their licenses.)

Reached by phone, Centofanti declined to elaborate on the agreement. Neither would city officials, bound by confidentiality laws.

Besides the errant food license, state Liquor Control Board records say Downey's liquor license was put into safekeeping on Nov. 1, 2015, meaning that the bar could not operate.

City records say the building had been listed for sheriff's sale on March 1, 2016, over more than $1.5 million in debts. On Feb. 29, the day before, Centofanti filed for personal bankruptcy protection, staving off the sale. The bankruptcy filing lists more than $73,000 in real estate tax liens.

A Licenses & Inspections spokeswoman said an inspector had learned of the Grubhub deliveries and on Monday, May 16, 2016, issued a violation. An inspector visited Friday, May 20 and noticed Centofanti at the stove. He said he was cooking for his family, the spokeswoman said, adding that he was warned not to cook commercially.

A Grubhub rep said restaurateurs must attest that they are in good standing with their local health department.

Downey's golden years were decades ago, shortly after Jack Downey opened it as an Irish bar during the Bicentennial. Centofanti, his chef, bought the business and property in 2003 and steered the menu toward Italian cuisine.

Nearly two years later, while patrons enjoyed Mother's Day brunch, Centofanti's brother shot and wounded their mother and then killed himself in the apartment upstairs.

Jon Taffer of the TV series Bar Rescue taped a makeover of Downey's in 2011, shortly after the city had shut down the bar for two days after a disastrous health inspection.