Miami Beach

Diners felt ripped off and misled. Now this Ocean Drive café is closed until July.

The city of Miami shut down La Baguette restaurant after an undercover sting involving the sale of alcohol to people under the age of 21.
The city of Miami shut down La Baguette restaurant after an undercover sting involving the sale of alcohol to people under the age of 21.

A Miami Beach restaurant where customers frequently complained about exorbitant and misleading bills will remain shuttered until July in what could be a test case in the city’s efforts to crack down on businesses accused of preying on unsuspecting tourists.

The decision, handed down Tuesday by a city-appointed arbiter for code disputes, requires La Baguette on South Beach’s Ocean Drive to stay closed for a total of six months while the restaurant comes up with new city-approved menus and addresses alcohol-related code violations.

La Baguette was shut down by Miami Beach’s top administrator in January following an underage alcohol sting that resulted in the arrests of three servers on charges of selling or serving booze to customers under the age of 21. The city also cited La Baguette for failing to disclose menu prices at sidewalk cafe tables and for allowing customers to leave the business with open containers of alcohol.

“The few bad apples on Ocean Drive need to clean up their act,” said Commissioner Mark Samuelian, who is sponsoring an ordinance that would give the city more power to crack down on businesses that do not clearly advertise prices at sidewalk cafes. “This ruling shows the consequences will be severe.”

La Baguette is one of several Ocean Drive restaurants whose customers have frequently complained about being overcharged and misled, often airing their grievances on restaurant review pages on websites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor.

Some Ocean Drive restaurants attract customers to sidewalk cafes using misleading food or drink specials or fail to include prices on menus, the Miami Herald has found. A tourist hoping to take advantage of a 2-for-1 drink special, for example, might unknowingly end up ordering a $55 fishbowl-sized cocktail.

The sidewalk cafe ordinance sponsored by Samuelian, which is up for a final vote at the Miami Beach commission’s April 11 meeting, would enable the city to revoke restaurants’ permits for sidewalk cafe tables if they don’t clearly advertise prices.

The ordinance “will be another step toward improving Ocean Drive for residents and visitors,” Samuelian said in a text message.

The debate over how to regulate sidewalk cafes on Ocean Drive is part of a broader discussion about the future of the South Beach street, which has long been both a magnet for tourists and a headache for residents. Despite the tensions, however, voters overwhelming rejected a November referendum that would have forced Ocean Drive businesses to stop selling booze at 2 a.m. instead of 5 a.m.

In La Baguette’s case, the arbiter, Chief Special Master Enrique Zamora, rejected an appeal of the code violations but gave the restaurant until July 25 to address the issues.

In order to reopen, La Baguette must implement a “remedial plan” that includes hiring an off-duty Miami Beach police officer for five months, developing new menus subject to city approval, and installing a camera system for the restaurant’s management to remotely monitor the business.

The city declined to comment on the arbiter’s decision. A lawyer representing La Baguette did not respond to a request for comment. It’s unclear whether the restaurant plans to appeal the decision.

Miami Herald staff writer Joey Flechas contributed to this report

Kyra Gurney: 305-376-3205, @KyraGurney