At Bar on A, a Familiar Scenario of Neighbor Versus Nightlife

Bar On ADaniel Maurer The bar at 170 Avenue A.

Once again, it’s neighbor versus nightlife: Bar on A is locked in a battle of wills with an upstairs tenant who has frequently complained to city authorities about what she says is “extreme noise.”

However, a person associated with the 17-year-old watering hole, which opened around the same time as the recently shuttered Lakeside Lounge, blames the neighbor for incessant complaints which he says have cost the establishment tens of thousands of dollars in revenue and even resulted in a police raid.

Mitch, an associate of Bar on A who did not want to be identified by his last name owing to the bar’s delicate situation, blamed the present conflict on “this nuisance neighbor who’s abusing the 311 system and recruiting people like a vigilante to hang us and hang everybody else in the neighborhood.” He believes fashion designer Dina Magnes has enlisted the help of other neighbors, loosely organized as the North Avenue A Block Association, to complain to city officials about the bar. The result, he said, was a spot inspection on March 3 by police and officials from the Fire Department, the Department of Buildings, and the Environmental control board. Officials issued five summonses for unrelated violations during that inspection, including for a locked exit door, lack of signage for a CPR kit, and overcrowding.

“She’s gotten them out here because she wants to have us shut down,” Mitch said during an afternoon interview next to the curving wooden bar while Guns N’ Roses and other rock music played softly on the speakers.

Ms. Magnes declined to speak at length about the issue when approached at her residence above the bar, but sent a brief statement to The Local via e-mail. “The noise from ‘Bar on A’ has been an ongoing problem for the past eight years (approximately),” she wrote. “Every time there’s a new manager the problem arises, and I usually manage to resolve it with the manager. When there is extreme noise and the bar doesn’t cooperate, I call 311 to report loud noise.”

IMG_2012Jared Malsin The stage at Bar on A.

“Bar noise is a growing problem in the East Village, in particular in my immediate area. There are two bars in the building I reside in,” she added. “I strongly believe in peaceful resolutions.”

Mitch denies that noise at the bar is above the norm. “The only time it gets noisy is Friday and Saturday nights, as every bar in Manhattan gets noisy on Friday and Saturday nights. You can’t stop that,” he said.

The establishment does include a small performance space and stage which Mitch said has been host mainly to quiet acoustic acts. “We do comedy. We do poetry. We do literary readings. We do folk music. It’s all quiet stuff,” he said. “Every now and then we electrify but it’s an acoustic guitar that we amplify.” If they allow a band to use a drum kit, it’s “brushes only,” he said, no drumsticks. He also claimed the bar had installed a $14,000 soundproof ceiling.

The bar’s troubles began before the recent police raid, however. Husband and wife Bob and Ann Scarrano opened Bar on A near 11th Street in 1995. Mr. Scarrano, a beloved neighborhood fixture who used to keep pet snakes, died in February 2010 after surgery to address esophageal cancer. The bar’s exterior still bears a picture of a snake.

Mitch, who was a close friend of Mr. Scarrano, said, “Bobby was like the mayor of the corner here. He used to give a lot of people that were in need a helping hand all the time. Everyone loved Bobby.”

According to Mitch, when Mr. Scarrano died, the bar lost its main manager and a charismatic figure who drew in customers. “Maybe it had to do with his presence. He had 16 years of relationships in the neighborhood.”

Because of hospital bills and the downturn in business at the bar, Ms. Scarrano fell behind on rent in late 2010, Mitch said. The bar was put up for sale in May 2011, but negotiations toward a renewed lease resumed later that year. While the lease still hasn’t been finalized, the space was taken off the market in October 2011.

Recently, Mitch claimed, frequent phone calls at the bar from complaining neighbors have interrupted performances and driven away customers. The departure of one theater group that met at the bar on Sunday nights has cost the bar $65,000 in revenue in one year, he claimed.

Mitch sees the bar’s struggle to stay afloat in the context of the history of the neighborhood. “When Bar on A came to this neighborhood, you had junkies laying in the street with heroin needles hanging out of their arm,” he said. “Back then, you couldn’t give an apartment away, now you can’t afford the rent. We actually brought revenue to the neighborhood and brought the neighborhood up. We’re pioneers in the neighborhood here. It’s thanks to institutions like Bar on A that this neighborhood actually grew.”

“Just let us live,” he said. “Let us earn a living.”