Volume 74, Number 40 | February 9 - 15, 2005

Neighbors at a town hall take shots at ‘bad bars’

By Albert Amateau

More than 100 Village residents packed a town hall forum on bars and nightlife last week to plead with state and city officials for help in controlling the noise, traffic and antisocial behavior from “bad-neighbor bars” in districts like Gansevoort Market, Noho and the central Village.

State Senator Tom Duane, who organized the Feb. 3 meeting, and City Councilmember Alan Jay Gerson outlined plans to remedy what neighbors consider loopholes and lax enforcement that allow bars to overwhelm their neighborhoods.

“We need to be a city that never sleeps, but we also have to be a city where people can go to sleep at night if they want to,” said Gerson, who is working with the city administration on a new noise code.

Officials from the State Liquor Authority, the city Departments of Transportation, Consumer Affairs and Environmental Protection and Sixth Precinct police, as well as Robert Zuckerman, director of the New York Nightlife Association, which represents 200 bars, clubs and lounges, heard a spectrum of general complaints and the specific names of allegedly bad bars.

Duane pledged to sponsor a meeting with the Community Board 2 Transportation Committee, D.O.T. and D.E.P. to revive an “Operation Silent Night” program in the Gansevoort Market and the West Village.

Complaints about noise from air conditioning and restaurant venting systems were focused on the Hotel Gansevoort at Ninth Ave. between W. 13th and Gansevoort Sts.

“It sounds like an airplane going by,” said one neighbor. Nancy Blanford, another neighbor who lives on Greenwich St. near Gansevoort St., agreed that the hotel restaurant exhausts were loud, but she also insisted that parties on the hotel’s rooftop garden were also a problem. “We have drunks coming out at 4 o’clock in the morning and puking on our doorsteps, cabs honking even though ‘No Honking’ signs are posted,” she said. “We call 311 and they do what they can but short of criminal activity, there’s doesn’t seem to be anything else we can do,” Blanford said.

Gerri Kelpin, a D.E.P. representative, told the meeting that the department last month had issued a noise violation summons for the Hotel Gansevoort’s restaurant exhaust system. But the department usually has to prove several violations before it can shut down a piece of offending equipment, she said.

Nevertheless, on Feb. 4, the day after the forum, Michael Lindenbaum, the hotel’s manager, acknowledged that Ono, the hotel’s restaurant, had received a noise summons from D.E.P. on Jan. 11.

“We’re aware of the problem and we’re trying to manage it,” Lindenbaum said. “We want our neighbors to be comfortable with us. Everyone in senior management is aware of the problem and we’re doing everything we can to fix it,” he said, adding that the contractor who installed the system has been informed of the problem.

Jo Hamilton, co-chairperson of Save Gansevoort Market, urged Transportation and other appropriate agencies to meet with neighbors to develop comprehensive solutions to quality-of-life issues in the district. Ivy Brown, a resident of the Triangle Building in the Gansevoort area, said new zoning was needed to regulate extra-large bar and club venues. Brown also called for a noise code that would solve the problem of masses of club and bar patrons talking in the street in residential areas.

McKenna’s Pub at 245 W. 14th St. was another sore point according to neighbors. Michael Munsey, a 14th St. resident, said McKenna’s serves drinks through its open windows to smoker patrons who sit on stools placed on the sidewalk. Such service violates state and city laws, Duane noted.

Members of the W. 15th St. Block Association whose apartments face the yard behind McKenna’s, asked Richard Mann, the S.L.A. representative, to help them oppose McKenna’s application for a license to serve alcohol in the backyard. McKenna’s had originally agreed not to serve patrons in the yard, recalled one 15th St. resident. “They violate that agreement every day,” he added.

Sphinx, a club that replaced Polyester, at 186 W. Fourth St., has aroused the ire of the Central Village Block Association, said Sharon Sullivan, a block association leader. “They’ve expanded illegally in the basement and we cannot find a [certificate of occupancy],” Sullivan said. She charged that Consumer Affairs issues cabaret licenses without checking zoning and building codes. But Andrew Wilier, a department official, insisted that Consumer Affairs does verify that applicants have complied with all requirements.

“I represent a 12-block area with 155 liquor licenses,” said Zella Jones, chairperson of the Noho Neighborhood Association. She declared that the S.L.A. 500-ft hearing rule has done nothing to prevent the inappropriate concentration of bars in her neighborhood. Moreover, the wine-and-beer licenses issued by the S.L.A. have gone to places that purport to be tearooms and sandwich shops but sell nothing but alcoholic drinks, Jones said.

She called for changes that would require a certain percentage of food sales for a wine-and-beer license to be issued. “If they want to sell alcohol without even a grill in the place, they should have to pay more for a license,” said Jones.

Mann said that a food-sale clause had been part of S.L.A. rules in the past but applies no longer. However, some places still have to comply with the food requirement because they were licensed before the rule changed, he said.

“We’ll look into legislation for a food-to-booze ratio,” said Duane.

The 500-ft. rule requires the S.L.A. to hold a hearing for any license application within a 500-ft. radius of three or more licensed premises, if a municipality or community board requests the hearing. Jim Smith, chairperson of Community Board 2, said the board always requests a 500-ft. hearing when appropriate, but that the S.L.A. may find the license is “in the public interest,” and grant it anyway. Indeed, the agency frequently grants licenses after 500-ft. hearings, Duane observed.

Catering liquor licenses, which allow liquor sales for premises that hold only private parties, are another loophole that has Village neighbors upset. A Noho resident noted that one club in the district has a catering license for a 5,000-sq.-ft. space where it has weekly parties for guests who respond to mass e-mailings. Mann said that kind of “private party” is not legal in a catering-licensed premise.

A new porn shop, called Passion’s, at 242 W. 14th St., has aroused the angry passion of West Village residents, some of whom posted fliers for Duane’s bar and nightlife forum after modifying them to say Passion’s would be the main discussion topic. Passion’s, whose entrance in below the sidewalk level, has bright pink lighting in the window, which some neighbors find offensive. But Duane ruled the issue was not appropriate for a bars and nightlife forum and would be discussed in Councilmember Christine Quinn’s XXX Task Force.

Kate Seely-Kirk, Quinn’s aide and coordinator of the task force, said porn shops are being invited to talk about their window displays.

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