Volume 75, Number 11 | August 3 - 9, 2005

A lot of opposition for nightclub at former Lot 61

By Albert Amateau

Tenth Precinct police turned up at the Community Board 4 meeting last week to express the precinct’s anxiety about an application for a liquor license transfer in Far West Chelsea from a club no longer hot to a new one to be called Roulette.

The problem with the proposed Roulette at 550 W. 21st St. had nothing to do with games of chance, but everything to do with an investor, Stratis Morfogen, the owner of the former Club Sessa on 23rd St. at Seventh Ave. which was closed by the Police Department’s Nuisance Abatement Unit in February 2004 for underage drinking and a long record of neighborhood complaints of noise and violence, including several stabbings.

The police report to the July 27 meeting was more than enough to convince the community board to vote without opposition to ask the State Liquor Authority to deny the transfer of the license from Lot 61, which closed two weeks ago, to Roulette.

“We wanted the community board to know that we were concerned about Mr. Morfogen’s involvement in the premises,” said Officer Mike Patrillo, 10th Precinct community affairs officer. “We’re sending a letter to the S.L.A. today [July 29] to let them know about our concern,” Patrillo added.

“We went to the community board meeting to pitch some statistics at them,” Patrillo said. Between January 2003 and February 2004 when Sessa closed there were 16 police citations for disorderly premises [including three stabbings], five for underage drinking, eight for failure to control crowds, three for failure to provide adequate security and two for have unlicensed security guards, Patrillo said.

At a C.B. 4 Business Licenses and Permits Committee meeting on July 12, Terrance Flynn Jr., attorney for Roulette, Inc., acknowledged that Morfogen had an investment in the W. 21st St. club, but described it as minor.

The committee then agreed to recommend approval of the license transfer on the condition that Roulette include six provisions: to serve food at all hours of operation; to clean the sidewalk in front and around the premises; to hire licensed security guards; to provide neighbors with an operating-hours phone number; attend community board meetings when requested; and prevent underage drinking.

The committee, however, said it had “serious concerns” about Morfogen’s involvement in the club, noting that Sessa had had a “string of stabbings” at 208 W. 23rd St. prior to its closing by the Nuisance Abatement Unit for selling alcohol to underage patrons.

However, at the full board meeting, the committee’s resolution was rewritten to oppose the license transfer.

“He [Morfogen] was described as a silent partner and we had no way of proving otherwise,” said Kevin Kossi, head of the Business Licenses and Permits Committee, “but we learned from the 10th Precinct that he isn’t so silent.”

Patrillo said that a licensed security company that had been contacted by Morfogen to provide bouncers for the club had made a routine report to the precinct. “Security companies always call us about a location, and we have frequent meetings with them and with the clubs,” Patrillo said. Hiring security for Roulette indicated that Morfogen has an active role in the club, Patrillo said.

The 10th Precinct has a Conditions Unit that monitors clubs, and Community Board 4 members and staff are very familiar with issues involving nightlife venues. The C.B. 4 district between 14th and 59th Sts. and Sixth Ave. and the Hudson River has 70 percent of all nightclubs in the city, both in number and in capacity, police said.

In one building alone at 530 W. 27th St. three clubs are located in a former warehouse: Spirit on the ground floor; Home, which opened July 28, on the second floor; and Bed on the third floor with a rooftop dining area. Scores, a topless bar, is at 536 W. 28th St.; Eagle is at 554 W. 28th St.; CroBar is at 530 W. 28th St.; and Quo is at 511 W. 28th St.

“It keeps us very busy three nights a week but we don’t have the notorious places that we used to. Traffic is the main problem,” said Patrillo.

The S.L.A. application for Roulette, also filed with Community Board 4, identifies the club operator as Thomas Nastasi and describes the premises at 550 W. 21st St. as 4,000 square feet with a capacity of 400 patrons. It proposes to operate from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. three nights a week, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with recorded music by D.J.’s, outside promoters, plus corporate events “when possible.” Roulette also intends to apply for a cabaret license, according to the questionnaire on file with Board 4.

The location, a former warehouse in the Chelsea area west of 10th Ave., was the home of Lot 61, owned by Amy Sacco, who has been dubbed the “Club Empress.” Her empire currently includes Bungalow 8 at 515 W. 27th St. and Bette, a restaurant named after her mother at 461 W. 23rd St. in the London Terrace complex.

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