Bowery Nightspot Faces Wrath of Neighbors, Gets Nod For Sidewalk Cafe

SAM_0319Lila Selim Mark Birnbaum addresses the board.

Residents of 199 Bowery again sparred with the owners of Bow, Finale and The General at a meeting of Community Board 3’s liquor licensing committee meeting last night. Over a dozen people spoke out against excessive noise and sidewalk congestion at the club/restaurant hybrid, which is seeking to open a sidewalk cafe and — more divisively — to move a basement dance floor to ground level.

Last month, the venue’s operator, EMM Group, withdrew its application after four hours of debate. After that, Susan Stetzer, the board’s district manager, offered to help mediate between EMM Group and residents by offering independent noise testing — only to be given the cold shoulder, she said. “I met with businesses, residents, and the Fifth Precinct,” she recalled. “We put notices out offering testing, and got no responses.”

Mark Birnbaum, an owner of the club, said that he hadn’t heard any complaints from tenants over the past month. Richard Halpern, the condo board president at 199 Bowery, said the club operators had indeed been “well behaved, cooperative” and had “kept the noise down” — but they were only acting like “choir boys” because they knew they would have to face the board again. He suggested the board wait one year before hearing the request again, saying, “We don’t want the leverage taken off them just yet, until they can show they are good neighbors.”

The Local reported yesterday that Travis Bass, who threw parties in the basement, is no longer involved in the space. Mr. Birnbaum explained last night that the “profit-sharing” partnership just didn’t work out.

The issue of promoted events was a particularly contentious one last night. EMM Group’s liquor license stipulations indicate that it mustn’t promote events or charge a cover fee. EMM says it does only in-house promotion, as opposed to bringing in an independent third party, and entry fees are only charged for tickets issued online. Most of the committee felt this had the same crowd-producing effect.

Last fall EMM said it planned to open a jazz club, restaurant, and bakery in the multi-level space at 199 Bowery. Instead, a nightclub appeared — first in the lower level, then on the ground floor as well. Mr. Birnbaum and Mr. Remm claim the ceilings of the lower level, which was originally licensed to be used as a dance floor, are not high enough to ensure proper soundproofing. Neighbors believe EMM Group always intended to open the clubs, and it is retroactively asking for permission for a move it has already made.

Barry Malin, attorney for Danielle Schwob, a resident who has filed a lawsuit against the New York State Liquor Authority and EMM Group, insisted that a change in “method of operation” requires a new license, and called for the application process should be restarted.

Both Ms. Schwob and her father spoke, clearly full of anxiety and anger. Ms. Schwob said that she has been forced to move because of the noise. Recently, when she was up for an important job, she had to get a hotel room to prepare in peace. Allison Maino, also listed on the lawsuit, showed the committee pictures of her twelve-week-old son.

Alex Firestein, a sound tester hired by the residents, played a recording of thumping bass sounds he had collected while visiting apartments 2D and 2C with employees of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Mr. Firestein said the noise levels were beyond those acceptable by city ordinances, but a committee member felt his statement was “disingenuous,” since no tickets were issued during the visit.

In the end the committee voted 5-2, with one abstention, not to support the move of the dance floor.

Ralph Lewis, another resident, spoke against a request that would add 12 sidewalk tables to The General, the ground-floor restaurant at 199 Bowery. “If we can’t resolve the issues inside, bringing them outside is not going to help,” he said.

Still, the committee voted to support the sidewalk cafe application, so long as the tables are cleared well before crowds form and additional noise begins. That means they’ll have to be removed by 10 p.m. during the week and 11 p.m. on weekends.