For roughly a year, Palm Beach County Commissioner Shelley Vana has been hearing complaints by neighbors of the El Toro Loco location at 2928 S. Military Trail in West Palm. But those complaints were not about sex slavery or murder. They were about the club's rowdiness.
"People were doing the kinds of things outside a bar that people do outside a bar, and people didn't want to see it," says Vana, who helped organize a meeting of neighbors at El Toro Loco last year. The nightclub offered to put up a wall, ostensibly to keep its patrons from pissing and brawling in adjacent properties. But that would not be nearly enough to make county and state regulators happy.
Those regulators were also invited to that meeting. Vana doesn't recall the exact date, but she says that agents from Florida Alcohol Beverages and Tobacco were present, as were deputies with Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and county code enforcement officials.
State records show that ABT ran a check of El Toro Loco's license in late September, then demanded a slew of sales records. It appears that the agency was skeptical about whether El Toro Loco sold enough food to keep compliance with its restaurant license.
In November 2009, ABT agents found that El Toro Loco managers had produced only a fraction of the records requested -- and that there were no records of liquor sales, despite reports by off-duty cops who said that drinking at the restaurant was fast and furious.
Vana says that at the same time, El Toro Loco was being hounded by county code enforcement and health officials.
By November 20, 2009, when an ABT agent dropped by the restaurant to collect more records, it was closed. Apparently, the harassment of regulators tamed El Toro Loco.
To Vana, the episode was an example of how a government doesn't always need to rely on its criminal investigators to go after a business that seems a magnet for criminals. "Sometimes, to get something going on a really big charge, it can be more useful for the community to rely on an ordinance," she says. Vana wants to make the county's nightclub nuisance ordinances even stronger.
For more on El Toro Loco's legal trouble, check out this Palm Beach Post article from last week.