As we reported last night, Community Board 3 decided to oppose Soho House’s liquor license application at 139 Ludlow St, an abandoned commercial building. The lengthy debate was very similar to the discussion that took place during last week’s committee meeting, so we won’t repeat the arguments made by supporters and opponents. But there were a few new details and arguments worth passing along.
The vote was 25-10, with two abstentions (abstentions count as “no” votes, so the official tally was 25-12). Soho House is now preparing to take its case to the State Liquor Authority. Last night, supporters continued to make a case that the club would energize the local arts community, attract new daytime business to a struggling retail area and provide a supportive creative environment for its LES-based members. Detractors, on the other hand, argued that the club would add to Ludlow Street’s nighttime congestion, disturb neighbors and serve as an agent of gentrification on a rapidly changing block.
Among those testifying in support of the club, which would be called “Ludlow House,” was filmmaker and longtime LES resident MM Serra. She said Soho House had agreed to host monthly film screenings that would be open to the public. Michael Chernow, the co-owner of the Meatball Shop and a Soho House member, said the club would “most certainly be an asset to the community.” He said Soho House had flown him to Los Angeles to cook for members on the West Coast, giving his young business valuable exposure. “It made a huge difference,” he said. Another member, Gill Linton, said opponents of the proposed venue have accused her of being a trust fund baby and have been “quite narrow-minded.” Explaining the difference between the club and the kinds of frat bars that tend to dominate the LES nightlife scene, she added, “we are not drunks… please don’t accuse us of being the same kind of crowd.”
Residents of a neighboring building, 143 Ludlow St., said there had been repeated, unsuccessful attempts to resolve their concerns about the Soho House proposal. Mary Ellen Bizzarri, who spoke for the tenants, said there are major worries about the rooftop garden, which includes a glass-enclosed space plus a patio accommodating a total of 100 people. Noting that the outdoor area sits just a few feet from many apartment windows, she said, “the roof is completely unacceptable.” A leader of the LES Dwellers neighborhood group, Sara Romanoski, spoke about the future of the building Soho House owns, which is a former Jewish funeral home. She said conversations are ongoing with local preservation groups about seeking landmark status to protect 139 Ludlow’s facade.
Following the public session, community board members weighed in with their own opinions. A new CB3 member, Ayo Harrington, called the project “really offensive” because it is “an elite, exclusive club that is not going to benefit the community.” Megan Joye, a board member and local bar owner, argued that “not every venue has to be accessible to all people,” but she expressed concerns about the proximity of the rooftop space to apartments. Chad Marlow, a new appointee who has quickly become one of CB3’s most loquacious members, read from prepared remarks, citing studies showing the uptick in violent crime in nightlife-dense neighborhoods. “This is a public health and public safety issue,” he declared.
When it appears before the SLA, Soho House must prove the potential “public benefit” of the license outweighs the negative impact from increased traffic and noise in an area with more than 50 liquor licenses already. Back in April, the SLA rejected a full liquor permit for a Latin-themed restaurant at 106 Rivington St., the chairman saying the area was one of the most over-saturated in the city. Donald Bernstein, the attorney arguing for the applicants in the previous case, is also representing Soho House. Last night, he argued that the SLA considers each application on its merits. In fact, even some community board members have acknowledged the two proposals are quite different, since Soho House is not a venue open to the public.
Before the vote took place, Soho House representatives were asked whether they would go forward with the club without the liquor license, and they said, “no.” In arguments before the SLA, Bernstein can be expected to highlight the club’s many overtures to the community, including 14 open houses and an offer to create a publicly accessible community space in the basement of the new facility. CB3’s David McWater, a longtime LES bar owner, speculated that the SLA would be unlikely to turn down Soho House because they own the Ludlow Street building.
The LES Dwellers have promised to continue the fight before the Liquor Authority and to pursue legal action, if necessary, to prevent Soho House from opening on the Lower East Side.