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Community Board 6 committee disapproves Kemistry Lounge liquor license application; would be second bottle-service club in the borough (video)

After hearing passionate criticism about the planned Kemistry Lounge on Flatbush Avenue near Prospect Place, the Community Board 6 Public Safety/Environmental Protection/Permits/Licenses committee voted to disapprove a liquor license application, agreeing with concerns expressed about late night hours and what would be only the second bottle-service club in the borough--and the first one particularly close to residences.

Here's a summary of concerns from Prospect Place Neighbors, a new organization formed in response to the application, which points out that the location is within 500 feet of eight establishments with full liquor licenses and on a block with six storefronts of preschool facilities. (Here's their press kit.)

The lounge would be a few short blocks from the Barclays Center, clearly a generator of patrons.

The committee's vote is only advisory, and the State Liquor Authority (SLA) has the final call.. As noted on Park Slope Patch:
“I am surprised. We want to speak with the board again to make a better business plan and work it out,” [Kemistry's James] Brown said, explaining that he is not sure if they are going to bring their application to the SLA right away or not. “I was definitely disappointed, but we will continue to work at it until we can come up with something that is amicable to both sides.”
Kemistry applicants pointed out that another establishment down the block, originally called Prime 6 and now Woodlands (expected to open shortly) got 4 am closing hours approved--and in this case they want a 3:30 am cutoff on weekends, while residents, as well as the North Flatbush Business Improvement District (NF BID), asked for 2 am.

Community members accused the applicants of bad faith, for example responding to the CB 6 questionnaire (in press kit) by indicating Kemistry would be closed on Sundays, but now planning to be open. They were vocally pleased at the committee's decision.

Drawing a line

The issue highlights the tensions between the push for retail and entertainment on busy Flatbush Avenue, a major thoroughfare, and quiet adjacent streets.

But Community Board members decided to draw a line, in part because of the addition of bottle service and concerns raised about that, as well as the size of an establishment serving 225 people.

“How do you consume a bottle of vodka in 30 minutes?” commented resident Christine Guerra. “We’re concerned that people, having consumed large quantities of alcohol, being put out in the street 30 minutes after last call. That’s the bottom line.”

Board member Lou Sones commented on the attempt at negotiation, brokered by the NF BID, which was only partly successful: “There’s all these stipulations that are trying to make this not a nightclub.”

“It’s not a nightclub,” one of the applicants replied, to skeptical chuckles from the audience.

“It seems, the design of it, the music programming, the hours you guys want to do," Sones responded. "If it’s not a nightclub, are you willing to close at 11 o’clock at night?”

The answer was no.

“I think we’re arguing--do we want something that is like a nightclub in this space, which goes the whole length of the street [between Flatbush and Prospect Place],” Sones said. “They might not call it a nightclub, but it seems like a nightclub to me. People in this neighborhood, and we’re going to deal with this with Atlantic Yards. We have to segment these issues out. People really got screwed--they either got kicked out of the neighborhood because of Atlantic Yards, Or the people that stayed--they’re now getting inundated, with their quality of life.”

Negotiation efforts

Regina Cahill, president of the NF BID, recounted a three-hour meeting, involving neighbors, representatives of elected officials, and the applicants, where the stipulations were discussed. The disagreements included not only hours and bottle service, but the character of the back wall on Prospect Place--glass or and a catering license for parties.

Andy Ring, in the third video, noted that Kemistry initially presented itself as a jazz lounge. “You don’t pop into a bar or restaurant for a whole bottle of vodka.” He said there were no other clubs of that size in the area.

“We tried to work with them in good faith,” he said. “We don’t feel that was reciprocated.”

Sugarcane, a bar/restaurant down the block, closes at 2 am on weekends, one neighbor pointed out.

“We heard a lot of what you guys had to say,” Brown said at one point. “We’ve agreed to almost every stipulation.” The majority of the music would be on the Flatbush side: “There’s not going to be as much thump-thump-thump” on the residential block.

He said, as noted in the fourth video, that they were willing to adjust the hours of opening, as well as the time period for bottle service. “We’re looking for a middle ground. We’re not looking to stay open til 4 am like Prime 6.” But his intention to stay open until 2 am on weeknights was greeted with dismay.

Bottle service

“I have worked as a bartender... you actually monitor the amount people are served,” commented board member Sayar Lonial. “People who serve themselves do not monitor what they’re served. Bottle service has no business in a location... that is in any proximity to a residential neighborhood.”

During the discussion, Sones said, “we’re trying to fit a square peg in the wrong hole.” The arena will be generating late night business, and “we can't ask a proprietor to limit their hours.... We have to decide: should this place exist or not exist.”

Board member Matt Silverman noted that there were several bars already there. “It comes down to whether we want to live on bar row,” he said, acknowledging that the board might be seen as inconsistent because it’s approved previous licenses. “At some point, there has to become a point where there's too many bars.” While “Prime 6 came a long way... at this point, I don't see a place for that establishment at this location.”

One board member proposed approval based on stipulations, including bottle service ending two hours before last call and the closing time at 2 am on Fridays and Saturdays and midnight on other days. Brown said Kemistry couldn't meet the stipulations, so that motion was withdrawn.

Then a motion to reject the application was approved, with about a dozen yes votes and two abstentions.

On video, some of the discussion/comments