Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Kemistry lounge (or bottle-service club) faces liquor license hearing tomorrow; neighbors slam increased hours, commitment to bottle service, disingenuous behavior

Via Park Slope Stoop
Remember Kemistry, the self-described "restaurant, bar and lounge" (or, as neighbors contend, bottle service nightclub) planned for Flatbush Avenue near Prospect Place, with a back emergency exit on a residential street?

The establishment, with a capacity for 225 people, faces a hearing before the State Liquor Authority (SLA) Wednesday, July 17, with an array of neighbors, Community Board 6, and local elected officials opposing it.

The objections focus on Kemistry's plans to stay open late every night (and until 4 am on Saturday and Sunday), its commitment to bottle service, and a pattern of apparent disingenuous behavior.

(My query to Kemistry went unanswered.)

The hearing, which includes many other applications, begins at 10 am at the SLA office at 317 Lenox Avenue near 126th Street in Harlem, near the 125th Street stop on the 2 or 3 trains. It also should be webcast.

Also see coverage in DNAInfo, which quotes neighbors' attorney Peter Adelman: "Having another bar, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but having this one is very bad." Note that Kemistry, while surely seeking to capitalize in part on late-night post-event crowds, likely aims to rely on a much broader clientele.

Neighbors' case

Kemistry, as noted in the CB 6 letter, came to agreement on a host of issues raised by critics, but not all. The organization Prospect Place Neighbors (PPN), via Adelman, details in a submission to the SLA three areas of conflict, part of an effort "to shoehorn an outsized club into this radically ill-suited location":
  • Kemistry entirely retreated from its initial promise to the community, CB6 and elected officials that it would “brick up” the inappropriate glass fa├žade that would face onto residential Prospect Place. At a March 26, 2012 public review session held by Community Board 6, Kemistry outright promised to “brick up” the Prospect Place exterior of the proposed nightclub/lounge, if that were necessary to allay community concerns. After later suggesting that its landlord might not permit the promised renovations (which was untrue), Kemistry finally abandoned all pretense of accommodating this intensely important community concern, recently suggesting it try to conceal its inappropriate glass frontage with “opaque, soundproof curtains.” 
  • Kemistry refused to scale back on its proposed hours of operation in recognition of its sensitive, semi-residential location. Remarkably, it has instead proposed progressively longer hours, recently (and brazenly) proposing to stay open on school nights as late as 4:00 a.m., and no earlier than 2:00 a.m. 
  • Kemistry has doggedly continued to insist upon providing hard-liquor bottle service, despite widespread opposition to this roundly disfavored practice. And as if to make a mockery of concerned community members, elected officials and this Authority, after months of adamantly refusing to negotiate its intention to provide hard liquor bottle service, in its recently-filed application, Kemistry now claims “not to understand what Bottle Service means.” 
Note that, while there's no statutory definition of "bottle service," it's a fairly well-known concept, offered by, among other outlets, branches of Jay-Z's 40/40 Club.

During the process, Kemistry's proposed hours have expanded. The proposal emerged in March 2012, when a CB 6 committee considered the application, which at that point proposed no Sunday hours, and Mon-Wed hours until 11 pm, (rather than 2 pm as of now), Thursday until 1 am (rather than 3 am now), and Friday until 2 (rather than 3:30 am now), and Saturday until 3:30 (rather than 4 am now).

Prospect Place Neighbors also suggests that a study it commissioned of "the nightclub/lounge’s anticipated effects on traffic, parking and noise suggests substantial adverse impacts" and that the public benefits would be trivial, and "pale in comparison" to those impacts.

The public interest?

If an applicant for a liquor license is within 500 feet of three or more licensed premises--as is the case with Kemistry--the SLA must affirmatively determine that granting the license would be in the “public interest.”

The memo from an SLA administrative law judge after the 500-foot hearing last November described Kemistry as "a restaurant/lounge serving Cajun cuisine," with "live music provided by a four-piece jazz band."

Some fuzziness emerged: "There will be no dancing, except the Applicant reserves the right to obtain a catering license for private events that may include dancing. Bottled liquor will be served to large parties"--an undefined term--"if requested in lieu of individual drinks."

Kemistry declared that its license would be in the public interest:
"We will provide a unique Cajun menu with a 3 to 4 piece jazz band performing for the listening entertainment of the diners, which are not available in this area.”
PPN responds that such offerings are hardly exceptional:
Little need be said about the “3 to 4 piece jazz band” performing for Kemistry’s diners. Both Sugarcane and Woodland have jazz brunches on weekends, so that experience is neither unique nor unavailable to the immediate local community. (As a corollary, if Kemistry intends to feature live music at times other than during the Sunday jazz brunch it mentions, it should disclose the duration and frequency with which it plans to have live music.)
Also, PPN points out that Kemistry's self-described “unique Cajun menu” contains apparently two Cajun dishes, while Two Boots restaurant, not far away in Park Slope, offers a full Cajun menu.

PPN points to disingenuousness on the part of the applicant, noting:
  • Kemistry to CB6 provided a menu including cocktails, but redacted that cocktail list in the menu it submitted to SLA
  • Kemistry won't employ a chef, which belies any professed focus on food
  • Kemistry appears to devote about 6% of its floor plan to food preparation and storage, far less than nearby restaurants and bar/restaurants.
The issue of bottle service

The PPN submission cites a letter from Assemblywoman Joan Millman, who noted:
Kemistry Lounge wishes to be the second establishment in Brooklyn too offer bottle service. Bottle service drastically increases patrons’ incentive to drink and promotes dangerous levels of drunkenness.
PPN adds:
Kemistry has not only failed to advance any kind of security plan, but its application indicates that it doesn’t intend to engage any security personnel at all. It is a recipe for disaster.
Impact on streets

A PPN consultant observed "that the local street network forces a majority of the new traffic onto Prospect Place and then onto other narrow, residential streets in the neighborhood," with Prospect Place both being the first place arriving patrons from the north would turn back north for parking, as well as the most likely route for taxis and car-services.

Thus, traffic on the residential street could double during late night weekday and weekend periods

In a stipulation, Kemistry agreed to notify in writing any car service it engages that they may not idle, wait, drop off or pick up passengers on Prospect Place, Sixth Avenue, or St. Marks Avenue, adn that any other car service or taxi should be instructed similarly.

I think that, based on the experience of car service companies serving patrons at the Barclays Center, that would be very hard to guarantee--even if Kemistry committed to such instructions, there's no way to enforce it.

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