Culturefix Lawyer: Something Stinks on the LES

Photo via Culturefix's Facebook page.

On Friday afternoon, defense attorney Kevin O’Donoghue rose to his feet in closing arguments, telling a state Supreme Court judge, “something stinks on the Lower East Side and (referencing a recent New York Magazine story on the city’s smelliest block) it’s not just Allen Street.” The judge, Martin Schoenfeld (who happens to be a LES resident), corrected him, explaining that Broome Street, west of Allen, was actually the focus of the magazine expose.  But the judge did offer O’Donoghue’s client, Clinton Street nightlife establishment Culturefix, something else — a glimmer of hope in future battles with the NYPD and Community Board 3.

NYPD Closes “Welcome to the Johnsons”

As we tweeted in the wee hours this morning, another bar has been shuttered by the 7th Precinct. This time, it’s Welcome to the Johnsons at 123 Rivington Street.  Last night, the NYPD and city attorneys showed up with a temporary restraining order, forcing the ironic 70’s theme bar to close its doors.  On Tuesday, owner Frannie Marchese will be called in to State Supreme Court to answer allegations that Welcome to the Johnsons serves alcohol to minors and has failed to hire licensed security guards.

LES Bar Manager Talks About Nightlife Crackdown

The 7th Precinct blocked off Ludlow Street May 6 while shuttering Max Fish.

For the past eight months, we’ve been following the 7th Precinct’s nightlife crackdown closely. As bar after bar is shut down temporarily for alleged underage drinking and other violations, tensions between the Police Department and nightlife operators  rise sharply. But for the most part, neither side has been willing to talk publicly.

There are exceptions.  In explaining why he’d had it with the Lower East Side, Mason Dixon owner Rob Shamlian told the New York Press yesterday, “the community is very hostile and the cops are a nightmare.”

As for the precinct, Captain David Miller (who’s overseeing the crackdown) is not permitted to speak with reporters and the NYPD press office has ignored all interview requests from news organizations citywide, including New York Magazine and the New Yorker.  Miller did, however, talk extensively about the situation at April’s Community Council meeting.

In spite of our best efforts, on-the-record, sit-down interviews have been elusive, in large part, because bar owners fear they’ll be the next venue targeted by the cops if they speak out.  But recently, a manager of a well-known LES bar contacted us, saying the time had come to get some issues out in the open. This person asked for anonymity, and in the interest of balanced coverage, we reluctantly agreed.

Max Fish Reopens Tonight

One week after being shut down by the NYPD for alleged underage drinking, Max Fish is reopening tonight. After two days of negotiations in civil court, owner Ulli Rimkus and city attorneys reached a settlement.

While the legendary Ludlow Street bar was permitted to resume operations, it must abide by several restrictions. Among them: a requirement to hire licensed security guards and to record the identifications of everyone entering the bar. Rimkus was also required to pay a fine.

This afternoon, the iron gate of 178 Ludlow had been raised and the front door was open. A sign in the window read, “we’re back! Yay! We’ll be opened Friday 5:30 p.m.!”

The Max Fish closure was part of a neighborhood-wide nightlife crackdown.

We have a call into Rimkus; we hope to get her perspective on the ordeal sometime soon.


Police Council President Speaks Out on Nightlife Crackdown

A short time ago, we posted an item on last night’s 7th Precinct Community Council meeting. In spite of persistent questions from a Grub Street reporter, Deputy Inspector Nancy Barry and Captain David Miller declined to discuss their Lower East Side bar crackdown in-depth.  But Community Council President Don West did have a few things to say:

“It doesn’t make sense,” council president Donald West told us before the meeting got under way at the brick station house on Pitt Street. West said there wasn’t much serious crime in the rapidly gentrifying community and contended it was “crazy” to have mounted police come in to control crowds of pub crawlers on weekends. “It’s like going back to the TPF days,” he said, referring to the volunteer Tactical Patrol Force of horseback officers who patrolled the East Village during the drug-ravaged hippie era.

You can read the full Grub Street post here.

Follow-up: Max Fish, NYPD Continue Settlement Talks

Here’s an update on the plight of Max Fish, which was shuttered by the NYPD last weekend for alleged underage drinking violations. The legendary bar’s owner, Ulli Rimkus, and city attorneys spent a full day in settlement talks yesterday. There was no resolution, allowing Max Fish to re-open, but the two sides will be back in court tomorrow to resume negotiations.

Online Petition Created to Support Max Fish

An online petition has popped up to save Max Fish, the legendary Ludlow Street bar shut down by the NYPD Friday night for alleged underage drinking violations. The petition reads:

Max Fish opened on Ludlow Street in 1989. We have nurtured and supported the Lower East Side arts community for over 20 years–a community that is increasingly threatened by a variety of outside sources including landlords, real-estate developers and the NYPD. Your signature shows support for the continued existence of a vibrant and positive establishment–one that embodies the creative spirit of the LES and elevates the quality of life for the community.

Breaking: Police Shutter Max Fish

As we tweeted a short time ago, the NYPD shut  down legendary Lower East Side bar Max Fish tonight for alleged underage drinking and operating after hours. Shortly before 10 p.m., officers arrived in front of the bar, located at 178 Ludlow Street, armed with court papers ordering the closure.

In the past several months, the Police Department, has come down on other LES establishments, most recently Gallery Bar, Mason Dixon and Los Feliz.  Those bars were able to reopen, after agreeing to hire licensed security guards and after paying steep fines.

Earlier this year, owner Ulli Rimkus was on the verge of closing Max Fish, a Ludlow Street pioneer, due to a rent dispute with her landlord. The crisis was temporarily averted when she signed a one year lease extension.

Other bar owners who have been shut down have complained that extra security costs make it virtually impossible for them to make money.  Long before tonight’s closure, Rimkus had told reporters the bar continued to be in a precarious financial situation.

In the past, 7th Precinct Captain David Miller has said he has made a concerted effort to work with bar owners. He’s said the NYPD only pursues legal action against operators who refuse to cooperate. The legal process is a lengthy one; it takes at least several weeks to get a temporary restraining order from State Supreme Court. It’s likely Max Fish will be closed for about a week.


Gallery Bar Owner Speaks Out on Underage Drinking Crackdown

Gallery Bar, 120 Orchard Street.

More this morning on the 7th Precinct’s crackdown on Lower East Side bars and clubs. At a community meeting last week, Captain David Miller said underage drinking is a problem in several neighborhood nightlife venues. 

Breaking: NYPD Shuts Down Mason Dixon, Los Feliz

The 7th Precinct shut down two more Lower East Side bars tonight. Shortly after 8pm, police converged on Mason Dixon, 133 Essex, and Los Feliz, 109 Ludlow.  Numerous nightlife establishments have met the same fate in recent months, as the precinct takes a hard line on crowd control, late night noise, underage drinking and other issues.

Late this evening, signs were posted on the bars’ doors saying “closed by court order” and restraining order.”  They accuse the establishments of serving liquor to minors and (in the case of Mason Dixon) serving liquor “after hours.”

Mason Dixon and Los Feliz are owned by Rob Shamlian, one of the highest profile nightlife operators in the neighborhood.  Bar owners have complained about the 7th Precinct’s crackdown, which they believe is victimizing responsible owners by focusing on legal technicalities. Police officers, on the other hand, say the tactics are not only intended to address “quality of life concerns” but also to make sure the problems don’t escalate and lead to violent incidents.

Last month, the NYPD shut down the Gallery Bar on Orchard Street. It reopened a week later, after owners agreed to hire licensed security guards and look into improving soundproofing.

We’ll have more on the Los Feliz/Mason Dixon situation after we have a look at court documents.