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Elizabeth Mitchell-Cipriano, left, and her sister, Stephanie Shawn, pose for a photograph prior to a party at the Handlebar Café for the priemere of a Spike TV "Bar Rescue" episode featuring Handlebar. Mitchell-Cipriano owns the café. (Sun file photo)

Pawcatuck bar faces permit violations over ‘Bar Rescue’ alterations

STONINGTON — Although the Handlebar Café has received its celebrated makeover courtesy of Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue,” the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission has issued a notice of violation for its failure to obtain the proper permits.

Specifically, the issue concerns the new mural on the side of the building, as well as the handlebars mounted above the front entrance. The mural is considered to be a sign and, therefore, requires a permit in order to be installed. The handlebars are not allowed because they constitute a safety hazard.

According to First Selectman Edward Haberek Jr., representatives from Spike TV did not obtain permits from the town because the facelift was to remain a secret until its unveiling. This prevented representatives from the café from obtaining the proper paperwork as well. Haberek is also the town’s acting director of planning.

“In a case where someone failed to get a permit, a citation is usually sent. That’s the standard procedure,” Haberek said on Thursday.

“It’s all very unfortunate. Basically (owner Elizabeth Mitchell-Cipriano) needs to sit down with the Planning and Zoning Commission and work it out. The town wants to work with them,” he added.

Haberek said that normally there is a period of time for voluntary compliance in such cases and that the appropriate time had elapsed.

In such cases, it is not unusual for legal representatives to get involved in order to ensure there is no misunderstanding.

“Regardless of the unusual circumstances, everything has to be proper and legal,” he said. “In this case, it’s frustrating because we’re dealing with a small business and we don’t want to be seen as a town that gives small businesses a hard time.”

Mitchell-Cipriano admitted that, at first, she was a little surprised and upset about the notice: “When we opened after the show aired, everything was all handshakes and smiles,” she said Friday. “Then we got the notice. I spoke with Ed today, and it was a good conversation. We have a good relationship and we will be able to work things through.”

Cipriano said she was kept completely in the dark as to what improvements were being made.

“They even told me to keep away and not drive by the outside,” she said. “I didn’t have any part in it.”

The notoriety of the television show has been very good for business — according to Cipriano, the café has become a destination for tourists and fans of the show.

“We had people from Amsterdam here the other day,” she said. “People are coming from New York, Texas, all over to have their picture taken in front of the mural and the handlebars. Over 4 million people watched the show, and we’re finding that a lot of people visiting Foxwoods are stopping by because we’re so close.

“We’re bringing people into town. They (the town) should be happy for us. As far as I’m aware, the only people that have complained about the mural are from Planning and Zoning.”

The cafe is located on Route 1 in Pawcatuck. The work performed by the crew was revealed on the July 21 episode.

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