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Philly restaurant inspectors may get more power to crack down on bars

City Council is considering giving additional muscle to Health Department restaurant inspectors that could give them the power to shut down nuisances.

Philadelphia City Council is considering giving additional muscle to Health Department restaurant inspectors that could enable them to shut down nuisance bars.

An ordinance, proposed Thursday by Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, would grant health inspectors the power to hit bars that ignore legal requirements on food service with citations for a number of new offenses. A failing report could result in the bar's having its license revoked, putting it out of business.

Bars that serve alcohol in Pennsylvania are required to serve food, have at least 400 square feet of space for customers, and provide tables and chairs for customers. Many do not meet these requirements.

"Certain establishments that operate under 'food establishment' licenses are not actually food establishments," Quiñones-Sánchez said. "They're not in compliance with state or local law and their practices negatively affect quality of life in the neighborhoods and endanger public health."

Quiñones-Sánchez, in collaboration with Councilwoman Cindy Bass and Council President Darrell L. Clarke, has been in discussions trying to get the state to crack down on noncompliant businesses.

"But those conversations are not happening quickly enough," Quiñones-Sánchez  said. "I think it's time for us to figure out how to sharpen the additional tools we have available. We should be able to say, 'No, this is not an appropriate location for what the state is licensing you to do.' "

If a watering hole doesn't provide more than potato chips, for instance, the new city ordinance would allow inspectors to kick-start the process that would shut the bar down.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has no enforcement authority over problem businesses, said a spokeswoman. Because there is no definition of "food," it's been difficult to establish a threshold of how much of it must be served.

"In some court cases, chips, ramen noodles, or a handful of hot dogs have sufficed," said the LCB's Elizabeth Brassell.

Staff writer Tricia L. Nadolny contributed to this article.