Soho House Reps and Local Residents Discuss Lower East Side Plans
A few new developments today regarding Soho House’s controversial bid for a liquor license at 139 Ludlow St., where the private members’ club plans to open a Lower East Side branch. Last night, representatives from the club met for about two hours with local residents, including members of the LES Dwellers group, a neighborhood association with strong reservations about the proposal. More on that in a moment. The liquor permit application is now available on Community Board 3’s web site. It will be considered May 20, when CB3’s SLA Committee meets.
You can read the whole document here, or review the highlights below:
- There will be a total of 95 seats on three floors, including 56 seats on a roof deck that will constructed.
- According o the application, the roof garden will be open from 7 a.m.-2 a.m.
- Three bars are planned, including a bar on the roof with 8 seats.
- 170 people will work at the club, including a licensed security guard to be stationed outside every evening.
- There will be live music and dj’s 6 nights a week. Musical performances are planned from 6-8 p.m.; dj’s would go until 2 a.m.
- According to Community Board 2, the city’s 311 system has recorded 10 complaints at Soho House’s location in the Meatpacking District between May and August of last year.
Images, menus, etc. included in the application:
Now, on to last night’s meeting. Around 30-40 people showed up to meet with Soho House representatives, including Pierre Dourneau (who’s overseeing the project) and Rachel Smith (the club’s membership director). They have been holding open houses for several weeks in which neighbors have had the opportunity to look over renderings and chat informally with Soho House staff. Last night’s event was more formal — the group gathered around a sofa and a few chairs set up in the barren ground floor space.
The meeting was intended to specifically gather feedback regarding the potential uses of a community space the club is offering to create. Dourneau said construction crews will dig below ground to create a lower level at 139 Ludlow (currently there’s no basement). The community space would be about 1,000 square feet, perhaps, accommodating around 60 people. One resident, K. Webster, suggested the space could become a bottle redemption center or a place for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. But there were few other suggestions from those gathered. For the most part, the two-hour conversation focused on the larger proposal, and the opposition among many residents to any more liquor licenses in this particular area. Soho House’s community board application notes there are 50 establishments within 500 feet of the proposed club with full bars.
One man, referring to the nightlife scene on Ludlow Street, said, “It’s beyond critical mass; it’s an avalanche.” Diem Boyd, the founder of LES Dwellers, said the community center would do nothing to address the key problems in the immediate area: huge crowds, late night noise, disrespectful behavior from drunken revelers and streets congested with taxis and private cars. A woman, who said she respected the club’s efforts to work with the community, said she is mystified by Soho House’s desire to come to the Lower East Side, a neighborhood that she said lost its creative cache years ago. “Why don’t you go the Buchwick?” she asked. A few residents suggested that, if Soho House really wants to do something helpful, they’d “buy out one of those disgusting bars (in the immediate vicinity) and turn it into a community center.” A tenant who said his bedroom window is located five feet from the proposed roof garden, was concerned about the hours of operation in the outdoor space.
At least a dozen people in attendance last night said they had been to events at Soho House on the West Side, and a number of attendees raised their hands indicating they would apply to become members on the LES. Several residents said they would likely support the proposal because it is a high quality business devoted to nurturing the creative class and because it’s better to have a responsible private club in the Ludlow Street building than another boozy bar. On a few occasions, residents debated amongst themselves; one man saying, ‘we need to be practical; asking them to buy a bar is just not realistic. I personally would love to see Soho House rather than another shit bar.”
Rachel Smith, the membership director, argued that Soho House is not just a nighttime destination but a daytime refuge for artists and other creative people who want a positive environment to relax, to work and to “build their careers.” She said the club’s members would provide something the neighborhood desperately needs, daytime foot traffic to support local businesses such as tailors and bakeries. She and Dourneau both emphasized that there would be no “rope line” outside 139 Ludlow because only members and a small number of invited guests will be be allowed inside. Contrary to the information included in the community board application, Dourneau said the roof would be closed at midnight, and music would not be permitted after 9 p.m. One man asked whether the club would be willing to apply for a wine and beer only permit. Dourneau said “no.”
In the end, there were no firm conclusions. Soho House will be meeting individually with the Ludlow Street block association, and the club has been urged to consult with local settlement houses for suggestions about the community space.