Smells Like Teen Spirit

Though it's been 15 years since he emigrated from Romania, Florian Salajan's accent remains thick. Nearly as thick as his chest.

With reading glasses on his nose and gray in his hair, Salajan studies a Phoenix police citation sitting on his desk, looks up and denies what police say is the biggest bust of kids drinking -- in a bar -- in the history of the department's liquor enforcement squad.

"The kids, maybe they drink in the parking lot . . . or maybe they drink at the party before . . . but I do not give them alcohol," Salajan says. "I'm not guilty."

Salajan owns Transilvania Restaurant & Bar at 15820 North 35th Avenue, which specializes in Eastern European cuisine.

At about 11 p.m. on Saturday, January 31, five officers from the city's Liquor Hot Spot Task Force busted 18 kids for consuming at Transilvania.

And, police say, those were just the ones they caught. One undercover detective says most of the 200 people in Transilvania that Saturday night were underage. When the bust began, employees shepherded teenagers out the back door through the restaurant's kitchen, according to police reports. One kid, who wasn't drinking, was 14 years old.

"We had no idea there'd be that many kids," says the undercover detective, who asked to remain anonymous.

On a good night, these cops might find one or two kids drinking in a bar. On the best of nights, maybe four or five.

But not 18, and certainly not the dozens they suspected were drinking at Transilvania.

"I've worked alcohol for 18 years," says Lieutenant Bill Schemers, who oversees the liquor task force. "I've never heard of that many minors being served."

Salajan concedes there were kids in the bar that night and police say they were there without their parents or other adults. They had just finished eating when the police came in, Salajan says. "But no, I do not serve them drinks."

The day before the bust, Schemers' office received a couple complaints: one from an officer in the area, the other from a teacher at a nearby high school, who said her students were getting drunk during lunch at the restaurant, returning to class and telling her to more or less fuck off, Schemers says.

When the five cops entered Transilvania the following night -- four in plainclothes, one in uniform -- they were overwhelmed. Kids were everywhere.

Transilvania is a classic restaurant/bar, divided into two parts. The kids, according to the police report, were all over the place -- sitting at tables, standing near the bar, dancing.

And only a few plates of food had yet to be cleared, police say.

This is important.

According to Arizona law, a restaurant/bar becomes a bar only when more people have drinks in their hands than food on their plates. According to the detective and the police report, there were far more people drinking than eating.

The police say one of Salajan's employees also was drinking while on the job, which also is against the law.

When the cops identified themselves to the kids, 16 of the 18 who were eventually arrested admitted to drinking. Fifteen of those kids said they'd been drinking at Transilvania. And none said they were asked to show identification, according to the police report.

Salajan says the kids didn't have to show ID because they came earlier in the evening to eat, not drink. And then they decided to stick around. A live band played that night. And lots of kids were dancing when the cops came in.

But they shouldn't have been dancing at that hour, says Jesus Altamirano, a lieutenant with the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control. After 10 p.m. anyone who is underage should be told to leave a restaurant/bar.

Salajan says he keeps his kitchen open until 1 a.m., and the kids, in his opinion, were still eating. But not drinking, he insists.

The bust could result in the revocation of Salajan's liquor license. He also could be fined up to $2,500 for each juvenile arrested -- a total of $45,000 in this case.

Still, it's the biggest bust ever for Schemers and his task force, a group of cops pulled mostly from other bureaus and, sometimes, from other cities to crack down on alcohol violations.

"We're here to enforce the law," Schemers says. "[The bar owners] may not like it, but that's our job."

Schemers promises an aggressive criminal prosecution. And Altamirano says the state will hand out "severe" penalties if the police report is substantiated.

Salajan, for his part, isn't overly worried. He maintains his innocence but says he has talked to lawyers -- just in case.

Besides, despite the manpower and expense law enforcement spends on liquor-law violations, the penalties adopted by state lawmakers are mild enough to make a business owner like Salajan shrug it off.

"If it's first-time offense" -- which it would be in Salajan's case -- "they give a one-year warning and fees," Salajan says. "For second time, they will double the fees."

E-mail [email protected], or call 602-238-4807.

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Paul Kix