Volume 76, Number 12 | August 9 - 15, 2006

Villager photo by Robert Kreizel

At garden meeting on Opus last month, from left: John Fout from Councilmember Rosie Mendez’s office; Susan Stetzer, C.B. 3 district manager; Erica Rubin; Stephen Choi and, at far right, Dolores Schaefer.

Neighbors in discord with 13th St. music club

By Janet Kwon

Opus NY has not yet produced a single note of music, but its critics are already firing a volley of scathing reviews.

A new East Village music venue, Opus NY is still in its construction phase, with a tentative opening date in mid-September, at 531 E. 13th St. Neighbors are opposing its application for a wine and beer license. But Opus’s founders, Stephen Choi and Erica Rubin, promise their venue will be nothing like a rowdy, drunken nightclub.

“It has nothing to do with N.Y.U. kids. Most of the people we cater to are going to be like people who go to the Blue Note — a little older,” Choi said, referring to the upscale Greenwich Village jazz club.

Choi and Rubin describe Opus as a “performance venue,” where they hope to showcase a diverse range of art, from opera, jazz and classical music to poetry, paintings and newly released books. The music venue is to occupy the ground floor and mezzanine of the four-story tenement building, which has 12 residential tenants.

“It will be a home for artists,” said Rubin, a classically trained opera singer, who graduated from Columbia University’s Barnard College with a degree in art and anthropology.

“I didn’t go to Columbia to get into the bar business,” Rubin noted.

Floor plans submitted to the Department of Buildings Opus show 37 tables and 148 chairs. A menu included with the application features cold turkey, ham, roast beef and tuna sandwiches and cheesecake. Choi said the place won’t offer hot food because there will be no open flames in the kitchen.

Opus’s application for a wine and beer license is at the crux of much heated frustration for many 13th St. residents who believe Opus will likely be just another raucous nightspot.

Jessica Lohrmann, who lives on the block, is not convinced by Opus’s assurances.

“It’s a fairy tale. They need to appease [the residents] and I just don’t buy it. I think we’re in for big chaos and a lot of noise,” Lohrmann said, stressing, “I just don’t believe them.”

Lohrmann and many other concerned residents met twice in July to discuss Opus’s arrival. Choi and Rubin attended one of these meetings, after seeing a flier urging residents to help block the “200-seat club” from obtaining the license.

Community Board 3 last month recommended to deny Opus a beer and wine license. However, the board’s opinion is advisory only, and the State Liquor Authority will makes the final determination. In addition to the board’s resolution against Opus’s application, residents are “circulating petitions and writing letters” to the S.L.A. demanding it not grant Opus the license, said Dolores Schaefer, a neighbor who is spearheading the opposition.

If the beer and wine license doesn’t pan out, Opus could go the route of getting a special event liquor license, under which it could serve alcohol for one specific event. However, applicants are limited to four special event liquor licenses per year, so it would be an impractical way to sell alcohol on a regular basis. Choi said he may consider applying for such a license as a one-time deal for Opus’s debut event, a charity gala featuring a mix of opera and other musical performances with all proceeds going to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., in mid-September. Nevertheless, he emphasized that even without any kind of alcohol license, Opus will open and operate.

“[Getting the license] is not that big of a deal for us; it’s just an added incentive for our patrons. It’s not a bar. If we don’t get it, it wouldn’t stop us from functioning every day,” Choi said, emphasizing that ticket sales for shows and food sales, not alcohol, would be the main source of income.

“The beer and wine is not the main focus in this place. Our concentration is really building the place up to be a space where people can come in and enjoy art,” Rubin added.

Though Choi may feel Opus can give it a go without beer or wine, European Union, a new E. 4th St. restaurant, offers a cautionary tale. After being denied a full liquor license by the S.L.A. in March., E.U. briefly opened, but, without alcohol, the bottom line suffered, and the gastropub was forced to close. E.U. is now angling for a beer and wine license in hopes of reopening.

In the same vein, 13th St. resident Marcus Hancock indicated that it’s not “economically feasible” to run a profitable lounge/bar without either a full liquor or beer and wine license. Hancock, who lives one door down from Opus, heard Choi and Rubin’s presentation at one of the July block meetings.

“I wasn’t impressed at all,” he said of their presentation. “I thought it was spin; they were really trying to cloak their real intentions. They were trying to show something that was a nightclub as just a performance space, and they flat-out lied when they said [shows] were going to go until midnight; in the application, it said 1 a.m.,” Hancock said, referring to an application Choi and Rubin filed with D.O.B., which showed the hours of operation as 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday to Thursday and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

“This makes no sense,” said Lohrmann. “It’s nice and fine to have music, but we’re all taxpayers and we work — and most of us have to get up at 7 in the morning and we can’t afford to stay up so late.”

Along with sidewalk and parking congestion, noise is a major issue with the surrounding residents.

“In their application [to D.O.B.], they listed jazz and rock. That kind of music is amplified and loud,” Lohrmann said.

The music may be amplified, but Choi and Rubin are taking extensive measures to soundproof almost the entire building, having hired sound technicians and other specialists. However, music isn’t the only noise the neighbors are fearing.

“It’s a residential street and since the smoking ban, you have all these people outside until 4 in the morning, being drunk, screaming, throwing up, urinating. The noise from the people walking down the street or waiting in line will be a total disaster. No matter how they insulate it, people will be outside,” Lohrmann continued.

Living right next to Opus, Hancock is also concerned about the potential for lingering smokers and loud passersby.

“My wife is pregnant, and we plan to put the nursery by the front door,” he said. “With all these people in the front waiting in line, it’s going to be impossible to live a quiet normal existence with an infant.”

Both Lohrmann and Hancock are seriously considering moving from their current homes because they feel Opus will bring detrimental changes to their block.

“Either I try to live with this, or I take a big loss,” said Hancock, who recently purchased his apartment for nearly $1 million. “I’ve finally saved up enough to buy my own place, and I didn’t have any idea that something like this could happen — that a nightclub might move in right next door. It doesn’t do anything positive for the neighborhood.”

Choi was the last owner of former nightclub Mondo Cané at 205 Thompson St. and residents are concerned that Opus will be a repeat of this late-night jazz club.

“Mondo Cané was primarily a bar,” Choi said. “This place is not a bar where people come to just sit and drink.” He added that he feels Opus will bring culture and beauty to the block and ultimately benefit the community. He stressed that he will be very sensitive to the needs of the neighborhood.

David Salidor, an Opus NY spokesperson, said he hopes the neighborhood will give the new music venue a chance.

“Let the place open, and come down and take a look. We’re not jerks. We are going to address every problem that comes up,” Salidor assured.

“We will follow through on our mission, and it will take a leap of faith — but we will win them over,” he said.

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