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So did Al. But life was no more peaceful at Barbarosa's. On July 23, 1993, its liquor license was revoked on the grounds that Al hadn't told the whole truth on his application. During the first week in August, the former owners arrived to take possession of the restaurant fixtures on the grounds that they hadn't received their monthly payments.

"They took cases of steaks," Al says indignantly. "And they devastated our liquor supply--I'm talking cases of Grand Marnier, even. People saw them do it! I told them never to come back."
"Al," sighs Detective Patrick, "was just constantly pushing his luck."

Do you need to be told that Al bounced back?
"So I don't have a liquor license, so what," he says. "I'll get someone to do it for me." Last month, a restaurant-license application for the B.B.C. was submitted by one Edward Lucero. "A great guy!" Al says. "He's a sixty-year-old guy who's never even had a parking ticket in his life. He bought the building."
Edward Lucero is easy to reach at his office, which is located, wouldn't you know, at the Hacienda Plaza Inn. When asked about Al Avram and the B.B.C., Lucero's immediate comment is: "Not open to my knowledge. Not me."

After a pause, he admits that he does indeed own the B.B.C. building, and that he has applied for a restaurant license. "But no food is being served there yet," he says, "and not to my knowledge will Al Avram be running it, I don't know, we gotta talk about all that. Not me. I can't help you. Not me."

"So, no problem," Al concludes. "He owns the building, he'll get the license, and I'm not the owner anymore, I'm a busboy! Hey, I'm serving food right now, and we oughta post our application for a license in a week or so. Jorge, I'm sure, will protest, but hey..."
But hey, Merida may be too preoccupied. Last month he resigned as leader of the Unsinkables, reportedly telling the group it was time for a new management style.

"Yeah, it sure is," Al agrees. "He's been running around here confronting people, asking them for their ID, harassing people, walking right into apartments...I seen him and his gang taking hits on poor old drunks. They should stop that."
And besides, he adds, there's a new group in town, an offshoot of the federal Weed and Seed program, located in that nearby 7-Eleven. "I have to tell you," Al says, "these guys are different. They're really gonna lend a hand. And I told them, `Hey, I want you guys to eat your lunches here, half-price.' That's legal and that's fair."

"What we do is different," agrees Weed and Seed officer Joe Montoya, a former District 4 cop who spent two years of off-duty time walking the streets with the Unsinkables. "As Weed and Seed, we don't so much patrol as we take care of a lot of calls. And actually," he says of the Unsinkables, "I would advise them that you have the right to talk to someone, but you can't detain them. I would advise them to start using the low-key approach."
So would Jennifer Macy, who walked with the group as a member of city councilwoman Cathy Donohue's staff. "I don't want to judge the Unsinkables on one incident," she warns, "and I know they have done wonderful things for their neighborhood. But yes, I do have concerns. We started on a patrol and it almost immediately ended in an arrest. As far as I could tell, all the man was doing was covering his face, and he ended up being arrested for resisting arrest."

"I saw incredible good being done, and I saw some things that maybe weren't quite right," says neighborhood businessman Don Koller. "I think you're violating civil rights when you stop people and ask them for their ID without cause. There's a big difference between `Hi, can you help us, we're out trying to stop illegal activity' and `What the hell are you doing here, beat it.'"
Koller is particularly concerned, he says, because he's building a recording studio and wants his "weird-looking" clientele to feel as comfortable on the block as "people in three-piece suits and Bally shoes." If they don't, his new venture will fail. Meanwhile, he's been discussing this with none other than that optimistic starter of businesses himself, Al Avram. "He's running a cute little club now," says Koller, who admits he steered clear of Barbarosa's. "You know, fancy shmancy. The pasta, which he's never charged me for, is really fantastic, and I hope he opens up soon."

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Robin Chotzinoff
Contact: Robin Chotzinoff