Sunday-night noise complaints have supposedly gotten so bad in Bushwick that the neighborhood’s community board is advocating a midnight bar curfew on Sunday nights. Bushwick, the nabe the Daily News has dubbed “the world’s indisputable epicenter of cool,” is adding around a dozen bars every six months.
A leading member of Community Board 4 called it “a lot of spillover from Williamsburg.”
If CB#4 called the shots, the liquor license for every bar in Bushwick would hinge on their obeying the Sunday midnight curfew. But it is the State Liquor Authority that is in charge, not the Community Board, which serves in a merely “advisory capacity.” And the State of New York isn’t in the habit of issuing blanket curfews like the one being advocated by Bushwick’s local government. “In terms of our agency, we have to look at every license on a case-by-case basis. So that’s what we’ll do,” said SLA spokesman William Crowley.
The million-dollar question that remains to be answered is, where did this proposal for a bar curfew originate?
Barbara Smith is a 14-year member of CB#4 and chair of its Public Safety Committee. She says the committee got involved after a rise in the volume of 311 noise complaints from Bushwick residents. And nothing the bar owners try to do is good enough. “Even though some people have asked to get their sites soundproofed, people are still calling in with 311 noise complaints.” Smith said that residents complain via 311, rather than calling in to complain to her or her committee directly. Would she be willing to sit down with bar owners and strike a compromise with them over the 12 o’clock curfew? “They can talk to the New York Police Department.”
Nadine Whitted, the board’s District Manager, echoed Smith that “most times, a lot of this is because of 311 calls.” She was unable to provide any new examples of residents who were upset by Sunday night noise, referring instead to the lone woman who spoke in favor of the curfew during the March meeting. “There was a woman here at the last meeting,” Whitted recalled. “What she said was in the paper.”
She was referring to one Monica Hall, 38, identified by the Daily News as an executive assistant who had lived in Bushwick since 2003. Hall used acerbic language for her public comment, beginning with her observation that “the hipsters are out of control.”
“You go into a new land and think you own it. Sleeping on a Sunday night, for people with children and who have nine-to-five jobs, is the difference between getting a good night’s sleep and starting your week off right, versus trying to sleep with noise coming from overgrown children.”
Predictably, Hall was excoriated by readers in the comments section of the Daily News coverage online. One reader challenged Hall’s credentials as a “true longtime resident” and accused her of instead being one of “the newbies” who “love to arrive in a neighborhood, and then attempt to change it to meet their needs.
“Many people don’t work 9-5, and Sunday is often their Friday. Additionally, many people don’t have children, so just because you decided to have them, doesn’t mean everyone needs to adjust their lives to make sure you and your kids get a good night’s sleep. Try ear plugs … or move to the suburbs.”
Hall may stand alone in supporting the Sundaynight curfew, but because 311 calls are a matter of public record, The WG investigated.
Looking at the number of Bushwick noise complaints for every Sunday night from September 9, 2012, to May 12, 2013, we counted a total of 59. That figure is pedestrian compared to neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy, which each had 146 noise complaints during the period in question.
What’s more, 24 of Bushwick’s 59 noise complaints came from six bars: La Perla del Ulua, 5; Passion Sports Bar, 5; La Nueva Vega, 3; Mi Bella Dama, 5; El Rinconcito Sabaneno, 3; and Heavy Woods, 3.
An additional 12 of the noise complaints were mistakenly attributed to bars when the noise was actually coming from galleries, private gatherings, takeout restaurants, and, in one case, a Pentecostal storefront church.
The 83rd Precinct did not respond to repeated requests for a record of noise complaints in addition to 311 calls.
Noise alone, however, is not the Bushwick community board’s only concern. Safety, they say, is another one.
“Our New York PD informed us that a patron was standing outside one of our locations smoking a cigarette, and someone shot him in the eye with a bb gun. Two a.m., on a Sunday,” Smith informed the audience at the community board meeting of April 17. Whitted referred to the same bb attack in an interview with The WG.
NYPD confirmed there was a bb gun attack at 2 a.m. on Sunday, April 14, at 53 Wilson Avenue. But April 14 was a Saturday night, or rather the wee hours of Sunday morning. In any case, the shooting wasn’t on a Sunday night.
The owners of Miles, Cafe Ghia, and Pearl’s were among a host of others sitting together at a few tables in the corner of the senior center where the Bushwick community board holds its monthly meetings.
You weren’t not going to notice them. They were the bearded young men in chunky glasses and plaid button downs rolled at the elbows. They weren’t to be confused with the girls in hiking shoes and curly hair to the shoulders, community organizers there to hand out fliers about sustainability and a community garden sprouting up under the M-train on Myrtle Avenue. They stuck out like a tattoo beneath the wrist line. They were noticed and were referred to, but they didn’t speak up and were never formally acknowledged.
No community board can meet without its chair, which is why this meeting was delayed. Julie Dent was coming from a childcare center where she is the director. She arrived in professional clothing, a beige pants suit, heels, suede handbag, and dangling platinum earrings. She and Whitted stood and conferenced behind their seats at the long table with a linen cloth that was the presidium.
She walked over to where the bartenders and bar owners were seated, facing forward. She stood in the middle of them and waved her hand at the wrist in a debutante fashion, making small talk. It looked gracious.
“None of the owners have actually come to speak to me personally about it,” said Dent, the board’s chair, about the bar owners. “I can only refer to what we read in the newspaper.”
The fact that criticism of the curfew from bar owners had appeared in the Daily News did not sit well with any of the community board leaders, if remarks by District Manager Whitted were to be understood.
“I look forward to working with anybody that’s willing to make our place in Bushwick a district that receives positive press. Because I’m not a fan of negative press,” she said by way of introduction to her district manager’s report.
In her report, Whitted came the closest to acknowledging the bar owners in the room, though not directly, by observing a physical “separation” in the audience between “new ones over there” and “old ones over there.”
“It looks kind of one-sided, lopsided, or something. It makes me feel uncomfortable, to be honest with you.
“So please, you know, come break bread with us, let’s sit, let’s all work for the betterment of our community.
They use this term on the board member application, ‘vested interests’. So if you have a vested interest in this community, if you have a vested interest in being here tonight, mix it up a little bit. I don’t like this one-sided room, it looks kind of strange to me. And we’ve come too far to go backwards.”
The majority of bar owners “love” the proposal for a midnight curfew on Sundays, if Barbara Smith is to be believed. She gave the example of Mesa Azteca, to date the only bar in Bushwick to voluntarily abide by the curfew.
“There’s only a few that had a problem with it. We don’t know who they are because they didn’t come and tell us; they just came out in the newspaper.”
The bar owners exchanged looks of concern as Smith read out her public safety report. Item No. 2 concerned a liquor-license renewal requested by “236 Troutman,” aka Tandem.
“We’ve had information from New York PD that they’ve had a lot of noise complaints, and the recommendation was for this site to get security guards, because there’s a lot of stuff going on there that’s not really, you know, up to par. So the recommendation for this was, like I said, get a security guard, and we asked them to close at midnight on Sundays.
“So, I’m putting it in record that we asked them to change and to close at midnight.” Jane Franklin, a co-owner of Tandem, disputes Smith’s version of her hearing.
“I was there at the meeting and they did not say that. What was said is that they have approved our liquor license on the condition that we would provide security seven days a week because we’re in a residential neighborhood.
“They recommended that we close at midnight and we requested that we close at 2 because we are happy to compromise.”
Tandem is believed to be the first “newbie”-owned bar to appear before the public safety committee for a renewal hearing since the Sunday-night curfew became a sticking point in the neighborhood.
“We had quite a few noise complaints when we first opened. So we worked with the community affairs officer at NYPD,” Franklin said.
“As part of our last liquor-license renewal, we put letters on all of our neighbors’ doors and they have our direct numbers so they can talk to us.”
Franklin wasn’t sure what influence a letter from the community board would have on the state’s ruling on her license.
“I’m curious myself. We’ll find out.”
A week later, the State Liquor Authority renewed Tandem’s 4 AM liquor license.
Asked for comment on the ruling, Liquor Authority’s William Crowley said “They have no prior violations.”
The Liquor Authority didn’t have to overrule any objection from the CB4 in Tandem’s case, because, Crowley said, the CB4 didn’t file one.
The bar owners let the public comment period on April 17 pass without saying a word. But they were back for the May community board meeting, a month later.
Unlike the previous month, a representative of theirs, Anna D’Agrossa, co-owner of Cafe Ghia, stepped up to the mic to announce the Bushwick Bar and Restaurant Association, reading from a prepared statement that it was “a new group of locally owned hospitality businesses in the Bushwick area.”
The Association has 19 members, all of which are “newbie” bars, and one coffee shop, that have opened in Bushwick in the past few years.
The WG obtained a copy of the statement read to CB4, which emphasized the bar owners’ dedication to “promoting responsible business practices, positive community stewardship, safe streets, and inclusive growth for all of Bushwick’s residents” [emphasis in the original].
Litter clean-up, public art, and neighborhood gardens are among the host of initiatives that the Association pledges to sponsor in years to come. Its bar-owner members will begin with the Safe Spot Initiative, which is a pledge from the owners to use their 4 AM bars as a network of safe havens to “harbor anyone feeling threatened on the street and arrange for them to be escorted home if need be.”
Just above some warm concluding words about the shared interests of bar owners and board members, the Association includes the name, address, and telephone number for its lawyer, whom they will retain “to make sure our actions will always conform to the letter of the law and to all pertinent regulations.”
Was that the sound of bread breaking? Only time will tell. But for now it’s safe to say the bar owners of Bushwick have taken to heart the community board’s admonition to mix things up a little bit.