DocuDrama: In the State’s Case Against Nublu, It’s Religion vs. Nightlife

SignsStephen Rex Brown Signs outside of the shuttered Nublu.

Presenting DocuDrama, in which The Local has a look at documents that dramatize goings-on in the neighborhood. Today, a look at Nublu’s fight to reopen at its Avenue C location.

One of the East Village’s last bastions of avant garde music has been forced to leave its home on Avenue C after an anonymous tipster alerted State Liquor Authority investigators to its proximity to a Kingdom Hall belonging to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now, Nublu is hosting shows in the basement of Lucky Cheng’s while the owner of the business, Ilhan Ersahin, struggles to find a loophole in liquor laws so that he can return to his original location.

“Really honestly and truthfully, I had no idea that the building across the street was a house of worship until six months ago when I received this letter,” Mr. Ersahin wrote in a letter to the liquor authority in May. (You can see the full letter as well as other documents below.) “I just don’t think it’s fair to blame me for all of this and after nine years in good, willing business.”

Nublu lost its license to sell booze on June 30 after investigators deemed the club in violation of a law prohibiting a bar within 200 feet of a house of worship. According to the SLA documents, an investigator broke out a measuring wheel and determined that the entrance to Nublu was within 79 feet of the nearest entrance to the Kingdom Hall.

A spokesman for the SLA, William Crowley, said that no appeal was on file regarding the authority’s ruling. He also noted that if a business was opened after a house of worship nearby, the so-called 200-foot law is not easy to overrule.

However, a post on Blackbook yesterday indicates Nublu is working to take advantage of a loophole in the law, which applies only to houses of worship that are used exclusively for religious purposes.

Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom HallStephen Rex Brown The Kingdom Hall across the street.

“They are working with the church to create a scenario that it is not exclusively a house of worship, such as renting, or using some of the offices as rehearsal space,” wrote Hayne Suthon, the owner of Lucky Cheng’s, in an email to the blog. “Even the church’s attorney is trying to help them.”

A spokesman with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, J.R. Brown, told The Local that it seemed unlikely that the anonymous complaint about Nublu came from the Witnesses. “From a congregation standpoint, there were no problems with that establishment,” he said.

Since opening, Nublu has established itself as a destination for jazz artists, musicians on the international circuit, and electronica DJs. Mr. Ersahin wrote that the likes of Norah Jones, Gilberto Gil and Gaetano Veloso have stopped by the club, and that celebrities like Keanu Reeves, Kevin Spacey and Liv Tyler were not an uncommon sight. Only one month before Nublu lost its license, the New York Times described the club as “an incubator of musical talent, with some of the most adventurous and varied offerings in the city.”

Shuttered NubluStephen Rex Brown The now-closed home of Nublu.

State Liquor Authority documents noted over 10 violations at Nublu prior to its losing its license, though those were not mentioned in the ruling confirming the revocation of the club’s license.

Mr. Ersahin, who did not respond to calls for comment, struck a hopeful tone in a recent post on Nublu’s blog, saying the club would soon be “back home at Avenue C.”