Volume 78 / Number 3 - June 18 - 24, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since


Mediation could finally strike the right note for Lola

The saga of Lola — a soul-food restaurant struggling to survive on Watts St. in Soho — has dragged on for four years. Pitting neighbors against the restaurant’s owners, the battle has been heated and, at times, downright nasty.

The Soho Alliance sued to stop the place from getting a liquor license. During the drawn-out court case, a liquor license previously issued to the restaurant has since been revoked. Next week, Lola will again go before a State Supreme Court judge, hoping the judge will reconsider her recent decision to order their liquor license rescinded. However, the judge has already ruled that the entire license application should be heard anew by the S.L.A. Lola will also seek the right to appeal before the Appellate Division.

But by choosing to fight on in court, Lola risks losing its liquor license altogether.

Initially, residents circulated a flier warning Lola would cause “diminishing property values,” “sleepless nights,” “increased traffic,” “increased tourism,” “more dirt” and “more crime.” Fearing the worst, Lola’s owners felt the opposition was at least partly racially motivated. But it seems to us the resistance was more about quality of life in a neighborhood become chronically oversaturated with nightlife businesses.

Today, the main issue is a side yard space where Lola’s owners, Gayle and Tom Patrick-Odeen, had hoped to have 60 outdoor seats. (There are 152 seats inside.) From the outset, residential neighbors in the adjacent seven-unit building were up in arms, fearing their quality of life would be ruined by the outdoor seating.

Meanwhile, the Patrick-Odeens have promised they’ll close the place by 1 a.m. every night, except for New Year’s. Neighbors also were anxious about live music. But Lola’s owners have created an interior, sunken listening area for the music, and when there are performances, doors with tripled-paned glass windows will completely seal this room; in addition, the restaurant’s French doors on Watts St., which have double-paned glass, will also be shut during performances.

Currently, due to the ongoing dispute, Lola is barred from offering live R&B and soul music, and can’t even host its famed gospel brunch. Their business is only about 30 percent of what it would be with live music, the owners say.

Six months ago, Lola’s owners and the Soho Alliance almost signed a settlement; Lola would have gotten their liquor license and live music, in return for agreeing to a permanent injunction on use of the side yard for anything more than parking a few cars. But negotiations fell apart after State Liquor Authority inspectors visited the club to check if alcohol was being served in the side yard, if there was live music and if Lola had opened without a certificate of occupancy, all violations at that point. The Patrick-Odeens felt the Alliance had acted in bad faith — and the fight continued.

Barry Mallin, the Alliance’s lawyer, told The Villager last week, however, that the complaints prompting the inspections were filed months in advance, and that only the S.L.A. knows when the visits will occur. The Villager relayed that explanation to Gayle Patrick-Odeen, and, seeming to soften her position, she agreed it was quite entirely plausible. In fact, offering an olive branch, she said she’d even be open to mediation.

Indeed, a professional mediator, not The Villager, should be arbitrating this situation.

Lola is a high-end establishment that will offer quality soul, R&B and gospel music — not hip-hop, the Patrick-Odeens stressed. There will be a $25 minimum charge to enter the sealed music area, while a meal will run diners $50 to $60 apiece. This is a classy place. We’re sure neighbors will thoroughly enjoy the whole experience of both Lola’s cuisine and its wonderful music.

Yet, it’s also clear that neighbors’ quality of life and right to enjoy being in their own apartments in the evenings is utterly nonnegotiable.

The two sides might have to meet halfway. Perhaps some use of the yard during the day? We leave that, hopefully, up to mediation. But we feel confident this dispute can be worked out, and that sweet music will someday play at Lola — for all to enjoy.

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