Bar fight: Locals say rowdy Tribeca club violates law

Residents of Walker St. complain that the thumping nightclub atmosphere of M1-5 Lounge — which originally billed itself as an “unobtrusive” pub — draws rowdy crowds that line up down the block and cause a late-night nuisance on the street.
Residents of Walker St. complain that the thumping nightclub atmosphere of M1-5 Lounge — which originally billed itself as an “unobtrusive” pub — draws rowdy crowds that line up down the block and cause a late-night nuisance on the street.


Tribeca residents fed up with the boozy sidewalk antics outside a noisy Walker St. nightclub believe they finally have the legal ammunition they need to fight back.

A lawyer hired by angry locals contends that M1-5 Lounge, which she calls a de facto dance club, has operated for more than a decade without the proper permits.

“To have loud dancing you need a cabaret license, and they never applied for one,” said the residents’ attorney, Robin Suttenberg.

When the watering hole originally applied for its liquor license in 2003, the owners only sought permission to open as a bar, so operating as a dance club violates the terms of its license, according to Suttenberg, who wants the State Liquor Authority to yank its permit — or at least nix the fancy footwork.

“We’ve been requesting and are looking for the [State Liquor Authority] to revoke the license, but, short of that, to absolutely change their method of operation back to what they originally filed for,” said Suttenberg.

Locals complain that M1-5 Lounge attracts young and rowdy crowds that queue up in loud lines stretching around the block, and the constant taxicab pickups and drop-offs that go on until M1-5’s 4 a.m. closing time generate even more late-night noise. Residents of the otherwise quiet stretch of Walker St. between Broadway and Church St. say that drunken clubgoers get into fights outside, and sometimes even pass out drunk on nearby stoops.

“The part that disturbs me are the crowds outside, and the noise that they make,” said Wayne Turett, who lives across the street from M1-5 Lounge. “There are fights and constant honking.”

Neighbors have tried several times over the years to convince the S.L.A. to revoke the club’s liquor license based on such quality of life issues — including a 2007 resolution from Community Board 1 asking the agency not to renew the permit. But state law makes it very difficult to hold a drinking establishment liable for the behavior of its patrons, especially outside the bar, according to Jeff Ehrlich, a member of CB1’s Tribeca committee.

“The S.L.A. has their hands tied with things happening on the street,” Ehrlich said. “The bar has to know that the people on the street came from them, and they have to prove that they’re allowing that to happen. And that’s very difficult.”

M1-5 Lounge via Yelp.com  mages the bar posted to Yelp.com suggest M1-5 Lounge is a dance club, despite that fact that its city and state permits forbid dancing.
M1-5 Lounge via Yelp.com
Images the bar posted to Yelp.com suggest M1-5 Lounge is a dance club, despite that fact that its city and state permits forbid dancing.

So Suttenberg’s accusation that the bar misrepresented itself in its original application and is now operating illegally as a dance club, could be just what locals need to deep six M1-5.

As part of its initial liquor license application in 2003, representatives of M1-5 Lounge wrote a letter to CB1 characterizing the proposed watering hole as a low-key tavern where locals could stop by for a quick drink, a bite to eat, and compete in sedate pastimes, including backgammon and chess.

“Our objective is to create a contemporary pub that will cater to a clientele looking for an unobtrusive, smoke free environment where they can relax, enjoy food and drink, while participating in recreational activities that include backgammon, darts, pool and chess. There will be music but no dancing,” Nikhal Jain wrote to CB1 on behalf of M1-5, in a letter dated Feb. 13, 2003.

And in its application to the S.L.A., M1-5’s owners specifically noted that the establishment would not condone dancing and that tunes would essentially be background music played via jukebox.

But when representatives from the bar appeared before the community board last June to request a renewal of its liquor license — as an “unobtrusive” pub — locals confronted them not only with complaints about street noise but also photos that M1-5’s own management had posted to its Yelp page that showed dancing and rowdy scenes inside the club.

In fact, the bar’s online reviews are peppered with references to dancing. The reviews on M1-5’s Foursquare.com page include statements such as: “Best dance music,” “Always a good time if you’re looking to dance the night away,” and “Drinks are expensive but good space to dance.” On Yelp.com — where M1-5 is listed as a “dance club” — “dancing” is mentioned in 71 reviews.

CB1 voted to disapprove the renewal — and to ask the S.L.A. to investigate the neighbors’ allegations, according to Suttenberg.

The S.L.A. renewed M1-5’s license, despite CB1’s non-binding disapproval, before state investigators showed up in September, but their findings resulted in a disciplinary hearing in December, during which a representative for M1-5 was lambasted by S.L.A. officials.

“What really aggravates me… are people who say they’re a certain type of business,” said S.L.A. Commissioner Kevin Kim at the Dec. 16 hearing. “They say it to the community board and they say it to the S.L.A., and, in this case, even those two things don’t even match, and then to the community you’re just like, ‘Screw you, we’re not going to agree to anything that we’re doing because you’re the community board,’ and take that kind of an attitude and continue to operate in a very open and flagrant way in a manner that’s inconsistent with what you said you were going to do in the first place.”

The S.L.A. ultimately decided to send M1-5 back to the community board to request a change in its method of operation to allow it to operate as a dance club.  But at CB1’s full meeting on Feb. 23, the board voted unanimously to oppose the application, in addition to requesting the state to force the bar to close at 2 a.m.

M1-5 denies that it tried to pull a fast one on the community or the state, and said that its most recent request for an altered permit is merely a part of the business’s natural evolution.

“M1-5 management and staff have never tried to fool CB1 board members or any other agency for that matter,” M1-5’s management said a statement to Downtown Express. “Over time our business has evolved and we are simply requesting use of a D.J.”

The business went further to refute Suttenberg’s allegations, and said that they’re working out a new security plan to curb the curbside debauchery.

“Allegations by their attorney are not corroborated by proof of violations, tickets or summons issued by any city or state agency,” read the statement. “Also, as a response to the community boards [sic] concerns we will be presenting a full security plan to supervise the exterior to eliminate any real or perceived adverse conditions from M1-5.”

The bar must now go back to the already unhappy S.L.A. and hope that the agency will disregard CB1’s recommendations and approve the change to its liquor license. If the S.L.A. refuses, M1-5 Lounge will have to trade its D.J. booth for a backgammon set or face stiff fines and even revocation of its license, according to Suttenberg.

Even if the agency does sign off on the change, neighbors still have another line of attack, their lawyer said. The bar never obtained a cabaret license from the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs, which is required to host dancing. Without it, a de facto dance club could be shut down by the city.

“They are in violation of their Certificate of Occupancy, which prohibits dancing,” Suttenberg said.