Last night’s Community Board 3 meeting resembled a vintage episode of the Jerry Springer show. All that was missing was the chair throwing and hair pulling.
The committee that evaluates liquor license applications was hearing a proposal from a new team hoping to take over the Gallery Bar space at 120 Orchard St. A neighborhood organization, the LES Dwellers, opposes the new venue and some of its members were testifying against the owners — David Jaffee (a well known promoter), Ross Rachlin and Will Wan. During the hearing, CB3 member and LES bar owner David McWater became agitated after a member of the Dwellers group noted that he had arrived late and suggested that McWater had showed up just in time to support Darin Rubell, a current co-owner of the Gallery Bar space. Last year, McWater sold Nice Guy Eddie’s, his Avenue A watering hole, to Rubell and a group of investors. McWater has a long history on CB3 of advocating for other bar owners seeking to sell their businesses — and has become involved in multiple heated confrontations with residents and other CB3 members over the issue.
Last night, McWater leaped out of his chair and came face to face with members of the Dwellers group, excoriating them for questioning his credibility. In a phone conversation later in the evening, McWater told us he was angered by the insinuation that he’s somehow corrupt and argued that the Dwellers went on a personal attack against him. In our conversation and during the hearing, McWater said he was late due to another meeting concerning an important land use issue. “There’s no conspiracy… they’re determined to demonize me in spite of all the good things I’ve done for the neighborhood (McWater spearheaded the negotiations on the Seward Park development project and the 2008 rezoning of the LES). At the hearing, he added, “they’re a single issue group. They don’t want to negotiate. We can’t cede our authority to them… They are 10 concerned people who call themselves a group (the Dwellers have in the past said they have more than 150 members).” During the tense exchange, CB3 District manager Susan Stetzer intervened, pleading with McWater to step away. The committee chairperson, Alexandra Militano, chided him, saying. “you got really close to them. That’s totally inappropriate.” McWater responded, “they say whatever they want and get away with it.”
In the end, the committee voted to deny the applicants, largely because they lacked experience in the nightlife business. The co-owners are all in finance, although they’ve brought in an experienced nightlife operator, Xerxes Novoa, a former partner in “The Orchard,” the defunct nightlife spot at 162 Orchard St. McWater made a quick exit following the vote and did not return.
There were more contentious issues ahead for the committee, however. The Dwellers had come prepared with a robust report assailing the DL, the big nightlife venue at 95 Delancey St., which finally won the support of CB3’s SLA Committee last year after several failed tries (the business was selling booze on the second and third floors even though the State Liquor Authority had only approved ground-floor liquor sales).
Residents complained about noise from the DL’s rooftop, sidewalk overcrowding, and boisterous, drunken customers terrorizing the neighborhood. Others testified that the venue ignores stipulations it agreed to follow (including a prohibition on promoted events and dance parties). “This is an example of what is wrong (with nightlife destinations in the community),” said local resident Marvin Avilez. “There is no enforcement whatsoever.” The founder of the Dwellers group, Diem Boyd, pointed out that the license had already been renewed by the State Liquor Authority and observed, “this seems like a farce. I don’t know why we are here.” Militano explained that the SLA sometimes renews permits before the community board has a chance to hear applications. She said the liquor authority has been known to impose new stipulations after a renewal has taken place, if the commissioners believe they’re warranted. Stetzer urged the Dwellers group to communicate with CB3 regarding complaints. The organization has been going to the SLA directly.
Paul Seres, who runs the DL, said he reached out to the Dwellers group for a meeting a year ago, but there was no response. Seres said he came to the CB3 meeting, even though he knew the hearing “would be some sort of a public stoning” because he “believes in the process.” The Dwellers said they didn’t set up a meeting with Seres because they have been busy fighting other bar proposals. CB3 members questioned why the DL was apparently violating its agreed-upon stipulations. Seres did not have an immediate answer. The panel seemed poised to ask the two sides to schedule a meeting and to talk about ways to settle their differences. Some CB3 members were surprised they had not gotten together prior to the public hearing. But in the end, the committee voted to deny the renewal. Stetzer argued that the vote was counter-productive, since there’s no chance the SLA will revoke the license. In spite of the evening’s events, Seres said he was still willing to sit down with the Dwellers and other neighbors.
See video of the incident here.