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DOWNTOWN : City Investigating Jack's on Broadway

March 21, 1993|IRIS YOKOI

Jack's Placita, a colorful Broadway bar and restaurant known for its fried shrimp specials, pre-noon cocktails and more recently, the discovery of two bodies in the freezer, is under investigation by city zoning officials.

Neighboring merchants have asked a city zoning administrator to order that the beer hall-like eatery at 327 S. Broadway clean up its act or shut its doors. About 20 merchants sent complaint letters to zoning officials, saying they are fed up with bar patrons who allegedly harass passersby, brawl and use drugs in the area.

A zoning administrator held a hearing last week to take comments and decide whether to revoke Jack's permits. But associate zoning administrator Andrew B. Sincosky said he will not make his decision for at least a month to allow time for an inspection of Jack's and further public comment.

Police agree that Jack's is the source of numerous complaints. But Senior Lead Officer Refugio Ray Yzguerra also said conditions have improved around Jack's in recent months since bar operator Jack Katash beefed up security.

Yzguerra said the improvements came soon after two bodies were found in the bar's walk-in freezer last October. The victims were identified as Katash's ex-wife, Lydia Katash, 39, who ran the bar, and her lover, Eli Massalton, 30, who was Jack Katash's cousin. The pair, who were strangled, had been missing for eight months.

Police are seeking two brothers who worked at Jack's and are believed to have fled to Mexico, Detective Richard Haro said.

Meanwhile, owners of the property told Sincosky they will not renew Katash's lease when it expires in July. The owners also proposed changes, including hiring new security guards, cleaning up the area and prohibiting the serving of alcohol at the open storefront.

But the owners refused two suggestions from police and merchants to enclose the bar and cease its morning alcohol sales, which begin at 9 a.m.

One of the property owners, Joe Hertzberg, said building a wall would "totally change the character of the business, building and block." Most of the storefronts on Broadway are open, he said, and provide a colorful market atmosphere. Enclosing Jack's would turn the business into a bar instead of the family restaurant it now strives to be, he said.

Estela Lopez, executive director of Miracle on Broadway, an organization of Broadway business owners, suggested that the owners construct a glass barrier, which would allow bar customers a view of the busy street, or enclose it with rose bushes for a garden-like effect.

Lopez also said she is skeptical of owners' claims that they wish to operate a "family dining establishment" because of their insistence on selling alcohol in the morning.

The property owners contend that morning alcohol sales serve a "legitimate" clientele of night-shift workers who like to enjoy a beer after work.

Katash, meanwhile, blamed a liquor store next door, not his bar, for the problems.

In an impassioned plea before Sincosky, Katash said he has videotaped people buying cheap alcohol from the liquor store and then standing outside drinking.

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