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Controversial Woodland restaurant/bar threatened with loss of liquor license; instead, proposed SLA settlement to be heard tomorrow

Woodland this past Sunday, around 5 pm
The NYPD officers were just observing
A controversial restaurant/bar near the Barclays Center, the subject of frequent complaints about noise and public intoxication over six years, was threatened with the loss of its liquor license by the State Liquor Authority (SLA), but instead has proposed settling the charges by pleading no-contest and paying $10,000.

Tomorrow’s SLA meeting in Harlem, which begins at 10 am (webcast), contains amid its long agenda, an item regarding Woodland, at 242 Flatbush Avenue (at Sixth Avenue).

The charges (below right) cover incidents from Oct. 1-Nov. 10, 2017: the failure to exercise adequate supervision; a situation in which the premises became “a focal point of police attention;” and three episodes in which the licensee was alleged to allow the “premises to become disorderly.” (The SLA Counsel has recommended that one of the latter charges be dismissed.)

Previously, in October 2016, DNAinfo reported on two arrests: a fight outside Woodland after a customer was escorted out, and a customer who tried to fight a bouncer. That same month, the Brooklyn Paper reported that the precinct had begun stationing officers outside Woodland and adjacent Bleachers Sports Bar and Grill Fridays through Mondays.

The charges at issue
For the 78th Precinct, Commanding Officer Jason Hagestad said last week at the Precinct Community Council meeting, “It got to the point where we had officers subpoenaed to attend a hearing last week. For some reason it was canceled.” He added, “I’ve never seen, in my career, officers subpoenaed for a SLA hearing.”

“The hearing was canceled because the licensee submitted an offer to settle the charges,” SLA spokesman William Crowley said. “Licensees and/or their representatives are afforded an opportunity to speak regarding penalties. Members of the public may also be permitted to speak.”

Settlement, he said, is not automatic: “The Members of the Authority make the final determination as to whether the violation are sustained, and on any penalty imposed. The Members could accept this penalty on May 2 or propose a counter offer. If the offer is accepted by the Full Board, this penalty will be imposed. If the Members make a counter offer, the licensee can accept the counter offer, or go to a hearing on the charges.”

A boozy brunch

Woodland is most popular—or notorious—for its DJ-fueled, no-reservation brunch specials, which include bottomless mimosas for another $20, and a nightclub atmosphere. "It's a staple for young, Black, millennials," as one Yelper put it, given playlists of "hip hop, R&B, reggae and soca."

One Yelp reviewer happily cited “Woodland's ‘adult-friendly’ aka heavy pour policy.” Wrote another, “The servers keep the mimosas coming so you'll be slurring your words by the time your food comes... it's so damn loud in here, you will need hearing aids afterwards.”

Another praised the DJ: "It was like going to a club in the day time.” Another, less impressed, wrote, "What's with the security and velvet rope outside at daytime? Is this Sunday brunch or a 2am at da club?"

Community concern

One attendee at last week’s Precinct Council meeting reported seeing a drunk man exit the bar around 5 pm, urinate on a car, and then drive off. “There’s a culture of over-serving there,” she said.  (One video advertising Woodland’s brunch shows a woman happily chugging a bottle of what seems to be brut rose.)

A 3/15/18 letter to the SLA from Brooklyn Community Board 6 opposing the renewal of the license stated: “Residents report filing noise complaints against the establishment by the hundreds, particularly during their typical weekend brunch hours." Other complaints include "patrons leaving the establishment and urinating and vomiting on the sidewalk, in the street, and on the stoops of private residences.”

CB 6 expressed regret at “the lack of a formal NYSLA hearing to review the renewal of this establishment.”

It also charged that Woodland’s unlimited drink specials were “a direct violation of Alcoholic Beverage Control Law Section 1117-a.” Maybe not. As Eater reported in 2014, the SLA acknowledged “a limited exception in the statute when the service of alcohol is incidental to the event, such as in the case of certain brunch specials. Even under these limited exceptions, licensees still have a legal obligation not to over serve patrons.”

Owner says they've made changes

The original hearing notice
In March, after CB 6 voted unanimously (with one abstention) to recommend the SLA not renew Woodland’s liquor license, Bklyner reported that the licensee, Akiva Ofshtein, had previously explained that the management had made changes, including ensuring that the security team wore clearly marked clothing; that barriers were deployed to control waiting crowds; and another security guard was placed at Sixth and St. Marks Avenues during brunch hours.

(Previously, then 78th Precinct Commanding Officer Frank DiGiacomo told Bklyner that Woodland's speaker system had been upgraded and the operators complied when officers asked them to close the restaurant's windows.)

Ofshtein rejected the CB 6 request that Woodland open at 4 pm on Sundays rather than noon, until conditions improve, telling Bklyner the board was being unreasonable.

License issues

Though Ofshtein told Bklyner that Woodland's license had been renewed, the SLA document indicates that the license expired 2/28/18 and that it is "Currently Operating Under SAPA.” The SLA's Crowley explained, “When there are pending charges that could lead to the termination of a license, and the licensee files a timely renewal application, the law mandates that a letter be issued allowing the licensee to operate under SAPA (State Administrative Procedures Act)…until the pending charges are adjudicated.” (I queried Ofshtein about this, but didn't hear back.)

Ofshtein is the licensee; the operators, DNAinfo reported in February 2017, are twin brothers, Robert and Zhan (aka Johnny) Petrosyants, who in 2014 pleaded guilty in Brooklyn federal court to laundering money via a Queens check-cashing business, charges that were levied in 2012. Robert Petrosyants got six months in prison while his brother got five years of probation, according to the extensive article by Leslie Albrecht and James Fanelli.

The team also has been sued by investors who charged they were cheated out of $1 million that, instead of going into other restaurants, had been put into Woodland, DNAinfo reported. While documents filed in bankruptcy court called the Petrosyantses managers of Woodland and Ofshtein the owner, DNAinfo reported, the investors' lawsuit charged that the Petrosyantses have a financial stake in Woodland.

As the article noted, a $1,000 campaign contribution in June 2013 from Robert Petrosyants to Borough President Eric Adams listed him as the owner of Woodland.

The website for the American Standard Hospitality Group, an LLC established in July 2015 with Ofshtein's law firm as conduit, cites “restaurants owned” by the group, including Woodland, and calls Woodland the first restaurant the brothers "established." (It spells their name as Petrosyan.)

The SLA's Crowley stated, "Anyone with an ownership or financial interest in a licensed establishment should be on the license." The other American Standard Hospitality Group restaurants, Forno Rosso Pizzeria and Wallabout Seafood, have Ofshtein as the licensee.

(The DNAinfo article called the brothers felons. To be eligible for a liquor license, according to the SLA, a convicted felon must get a Certificate of Relief from Civil Disabilities, a pardon, or a Certificate of Good Conduct.)

Adams and the "demographic" issue

As the building--once a video store--was being remodeled, the Brooklyn Paper in 2011 reported that Ofshtein had told locals that Prime Six, as it was then to be called, would be "a local eatery — but he told state liquor officials that the two-story, 230-person 'lounge,' will hire four 'security guards,' offer 'bottle service' and have an outdoor 'stand-up bar.'” Before opening in 2012, Ofshtein promised a "nice cozy restaurant," thus seemingly placating those alarmed by earlier plans.

Early on, a 2/1/13 New York Times article suggested that the pre-game crowd at the "dark, earthy American bistro, gets a crowd as diverse as the events at the new arena." Crowds at Woodland were cited in 2013 in the Daily News as evidence of the Barclays Center's impact.

Flatbush Avenue is a busy corridor, but the recently extended Park Slope Historic District starts just a block away. Though residents say complaints relate to nightclub-type impacts on a residential neighborhood, discussion of Woodland can involve race.

Woodland’s owners/operators are white, but its clientele today is mainly black, given its music policy and word of mouth, and it's become a cherished location for some.

“I still thrill at the memory of the last time I went to Woodland,” wrote Stacy-Ann Ellis in an Eater article this past January about The Joy of Black Brunch. “We’d been seated near DJ Yung Hova, whose bass-heavy mixes of hip-hop, soca, and reggae, all reflecting New York City’s robust West Indian immigrant population, slowly turned the space into a full-blown party.”

At a meeting in Prospect Heights last November with Borough President Adams, when residents were invited to air community complaints about bars, one resident brought up Woodland: “You had a fundraiser there. You know about these places."

(Adams held one fundraiser at Woodland, and three at other restaurants the brothers operate, reported DNAinfo. Other elected officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, have held fundraisers at Woodland.)

"Let me tell you about something else I know, also," Adams responded combatively. "I know that those three locations"--Woodland, Bleachers, and the adjacent Sugarcane--"the demographic of their customers" is different from the surrounding neighborhood, whose residents are mostly white.

“I’m not going to be closing people down because folks are saying, ‘I don’t like the way customers look,’” said Adams, the borough's first black Borough President.

No one had raised that at the meeting. “Vomit doesn’t have a racial tint,” responded the resident. “Y’know, if someone comes to my neighborhood and craps on my stoop, that’s not OK. And you should care about that.”

(The key power regarding such businesses lies within the State Liquor Authority; elected officials in such cases have a soapbox but also can nudge agencies.)

Assessing the violations 

Adams said that he’d spoken to the precinct commander and had been told there were “no crimes, no serious violations… They’re compliant with the law.” He added, “I’m not closing legitimate businesses that are employing the unemployable in my borough. I have to put people back to employment.”

Given the arrests in 2016, it’s unclear what “no crimes” meant. Two months before Adams spoke, Bklyner reported on a "large brawl on the sidewalk in front of Woodland and Bleachers" on a Thursday night, and a stabbing at 3 am on a Sunday one block from Woodland, though it wasn't clear where the incident began. Some of the "disorderly premises" issues cited recently by the SLA arose not long before the November meeting with Adams.

My check of the 311 database indicates more than 200 complaints since mid-2014 regarding Woodland's address in which the police “took action to fix the condition,” mainly noise, and hundreds more in which the police discerned “no evidence of the violation.” (Some of those conditions, presumably, have been addressed by changes in operations.)

In August 2016, DNAinfo reported, an off-duty cop and his cousin left Bleachers, and the cop shot a man who was mugging the cousin on a nearby residential street, with one bullet piercing a neighbor's window.