At S.L.A. Licensing Meeting, Neighbors Rake Diablo Royale Este Over The Coals

diaboloDaniel Maurer

In an at times vitriolic give-and-take of accusations and counter-accusations, neighbors came out in force last night to oppose a liquor license renewal for Diablo Royale Este, a Mexican establishment on Avenue A that has been plagued with complaints since its opening in May of 2010.

At a meeting of Community Board 3’s S.L.A. & D.C.A. Licensing committee, Andrew Coamey accused Diablo Royale of “contributing to turning Avenue A into a booze-filled entertainment zone.” The neighbor, who is a frequent attendee of the meetings, distributed a packet of materials to committee members detailing numerous complaints against the restaurant, complete with photographs of drunken revelers outside of the establishment on Halloween. One photograph showed a man urinating on the door of Mr. Coamey’s building. “Cleary they are not running the family-friendly Mexican restaurant this board approved,” he said.

“My concern is more the impact [Diablo Royale] has on all of us,” said longtime East Village resident Judith Zaborowski, 68. “I think that an operating license in the neighborhood is a privilege. I think that the fallout from an operation being permitted to continue when it has a history of complaints and non-compliances, will have an impact on us in our own space.”

Meri Micara, 44, who lives next door to the restaurant, also detailed a long list of complaints, including the situating of the restaurant’s ventilation system on top of her bedroom ceiling. “Its sound shakes the whole apartment,” Ms. Micara said. “What is good about this place? This has been the biggest ordeal of my life.”

In total, seven residents spoke out against the renewal. With each complainant, the owner of Diablo Royale, Jason Hennings, grew more agitated, until he was finally allowed to respond. “I want to make it very clear that most of the people here have been cajoled to be here by Mr. Coamey,” he said. “We have the most prolific activists here as our neighbors. Most of the people here have not reached out to us, ever.”

When the audience demurred, Mr. Hennings continued on, accusing Mr. Coamey of lying. “We have not been found guilty of anything that has been said here,” he said, turning to address the committee directly. “You all know this as factually unsound. And by the way, real courts of law work because people get to defend themselves with rationalizations, and proof. And there is absolutely no proof for these lies. I’m not a diplomat; I’m a restaurateur. I don’t have to stand and take this crap. Bring all your friends, or maybe these are all you have.”

Mr. Hennings’s outburst evoked some sympathy from board member Ariel Palitz, the owner of East Village hotspot Sutra. “There is a lot of validity to his frustrations,” Ms. Palitz said. “People having a successful business, and having people out on the street, is not a violation.”

Ms. Palitz also leant some credence to Mr. Hennings’s assertion that he was being personally targeted.

“I’ve been here for three years; I see [the same residents] every month,” she said. “I just want all the committee members to take it with a grain of salt. It is very easy to be the victim of harassment when people conspire against a single business. You have to be able to really weed through what this guy is saying and what they’re saying.”

Susan Stetzer, District Manager of Community Board 3, then informed Mr. Hennings that she had written to the Department of Buildings for clarification regarding his use of an outdoor space, and was told it was being operated illegally.

“This is indicative of a witch hunt,” Mr. Hennings retorted, questioning the motivation and timing behind Ms. Stetzer’s personal investigation of his building certificates. “I just find it odd,” he said. “It’s just my life, no big deal.”

Ultimately, despite Mr. Hennings’s vigorous denials and Ms. Palitz’s request that the committee wait until the pending complaints were resolved, member Herman Hewitt submitted a motion to recommend that the State Liquor Authority deny the license renewal, and David Conn seconded the motion.

Following the vote, both parties retired to the sidewalk.

“I’m just really, really tired of being called a liar, over and over,” Mr. Coamey said. “The notion that we’re on a witch hunt is not true. This is the only guy on the block who shows us such disgust and hatred.”

Mr. Hennings’s parting shot was brief. “You can’t fight crazy,” he said. “That’s my quote.”