Tongues and keyboards wagged throughout the East Village this fall as the saga of Aces and Eights bar unfolded: the city shut it down for lack of a health permit, it secured the permit and reopened 10 days later, only to have the state decline to renew its liquor license and shut it back down late last month. Meanwhile, the owner of the other Aces and Eights uptown distanced himself from the Avenue A establishment he had run for almost two years, saying the two bars were no longer affiliated.
But one voice that was missing was that of the investor who bankrolled the downtown venture and who, after months of legal wrangling with his former partner, now stands in possession of a nearly 3,000 square foot space that sits dark and empty every night, for lack of permission to sell its $9 cosmopolitans and $6 Brooklyn Lagers.
This week, Jevan Damadian broke his silence in a lengthy interview with The Lo-Down, as he prepared for a meeting to woo neighbors next week and a Nov. 15 appeal to Community Board 3 to grant him a new liquor license.
“I’ve got to tell somebody my story,” he said. “It’s unbelievable, this mess I’ve gotten myself into.”
Damadian admits up front that he was completely ignorant of the bar business until the events of this fall gave him a crash course. How he came to own the Avenue A watering hole is a convoluted story as he tells it, punctuated by enormous checks flowing in only one direction.
After a career in his family’s successful chain of MRI centers, where he remains a regional director, Damadian came into some cash when the family sold its centers to a large health corporation. Seeing the stock market falling, he looked around for alternative investment opportunities. He lives on the Upper East Side, upstairs from the original Aces and Eights at First Avenue and East 87th Street, and had watched it grow into a successful bar under the leadership of owner Solomon Eljashev. The two men had become friendly, and eventually struck a deal for Eljashev to open the East Village branch with Damadian’s money.
Over the course of the partnership, Damadian alleges, Eljashev shut him out of the business, failed to make loan payments as agreed and fell severely behind on the rent, causing the landlord to threaten eviction this summer. The city health department then closed the bar on Sept. 14, after discovering that Eljashev had never obtained an operating permit, the basic permission slip every New York City bar and restaurant needs to open its doors.
After roughly 18 months and $700,000, Damadian says, the two men have parted ways, leaving Damadian owning the downtown bar, which will no longer be called Aces and Eights and which, at the moment, has no income stream to put against its $20,000 monthly rent and other expenses.
“He agreed to do the transfer of ownership, and then he walked away scot free,” Damadian says.
Eljashev refused a request for an interview, referring questions to his lawyer, Larry Rader. Rader declined to discuss the partnership in detail, saying only: “We disagree with Jevan’s characterization of the situation. We don’t think anything wrong went on, and we wish Jevan well.”
Rader adds that he and his client attribute the bulk of the bar’s difficulties to the tough economy and “disgruntled former employees posting on blogs.”
After taking control of the bar, Damadian did succeed in securing an operating permit from the health department, which allowed him to reopen on Sept. 24. But in the meantime, all the public scrutiny and complaints from CB3 about the health permit prompted an investigation by the New York State Liquor Authority, which until then had been automatically renewing Aces and Eights’ temporary liquor license on a month-to-month basis. Even though Damadian says he was the lender behind the downtown enterprise from the start, his name did not appear, nor was his investment disclosed on the original application Eljashev submitted to the liquor board in April 2009. That caused the SLA to deny the permanent license application on Oct. 18 after a month-long investigation.
In a seven-page ruling detailing its findings, the SLA disapproved the license application because “the investigation has shown that the principal listed in the application was not the true, or at the very least, the sole party of interest in the license sought for the proposed premises. The authority was not notified of any other party’s involvement in the financing or in the day to day operations of the business.”
The bar’s most recent temporary license then expired on Oct. 23; the bar has remained closed since.
Damadian is scheduled to appear before the SLA committee of CB3 on Nov. 15 to plead his case for a new permanent license for his bar. In advance of that meeting, he is collecting signatures on support petitions and inviting the bar’s neighbors to hear his plans and voice their concerns in a gathering in front of 34 Avenue A on Nov. 10, from 5 to 8 p.m (EV Grieve noted the meeting earlier today).
“My aim is to run an establishment that will meet the approval of the community,” he wrote in the invitation, which is posted in the window.
If he is able to reopen the bar, Damadian says, he would like to establish an upscale tapas lounge in the upstairs space, where business people can meet quietly. The downstairs space, which garnered a reputation as a rambunctious “frathole” during its tenure, is still home to a pool table, but Damadian would like the bar’s critics to know one thing: “The beer pong is gone,” he says.