Cajun Soho bar fight still ragin’; Lola wants liquor

By Gerard Flynn

A spokesperson for the State Liquor Authority announced this week that the agency is only weeks away from granting embattled Soho Cajun-Creole restaurant and jazz lounge Lola a liquor license, possibly concluding over a year and a half of legal proceedings between the owners, Gayle and Tom Patrick-Odeen, and their determined opponents, the community group Soho Alliance.

“After we write up the reasons for approving it, the bar will get a conditional approval letter,” said William Crowley, S.L.A. spokesperson.

Crowley said that a newly appointed counsel for the agency has been finding it difficult to come up with reasons to justify issuing the license for the premises on Watts St., since the S.L.A. administration that initially approved the application has been almost completely replaced, which imposed difficulties on the new counsel approving it.

However, he said that since the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court had ordered the S.L.A. to find reasons “in the public interest” justifying the liquor license, the application would be granted.

In a motion filed jointly with the Soho Alliance last September, the S.L.A. had asked the court to allow the agency to conduct a de novo — or new — review of the Lola application for the liquor license, which had it been successful, would have started the application from scratch, a request the judicial panel denied in November.

Since the application for the liquor license was initially approved by a previous S.L.A. administration in early 2005, the Patrick-Odeens have had to wait almost two years to get the go-ahead to open, following successful legal challenges from the Soho Alliance.

Since 2005, the well-funded Soho community group has challenged the application on numerous grounds, charging Lola would increase noise pollution and Holland Tunnel traffic congestion, and that the bar and restaurant would break the 500-foot rule, which states that the S.L.A. cannot issue liquor licenses if there are already three or more licensed establishments within a 500-foot radius, unless doing so is found to be “in the public interest.”

Sean Sweeney, Soho Alliance director, said that since the new administration at the S.L.A. couldn’t find reasons in September for approving the application, the Alliance — and the local community they represent — are eagerly waiting to see how the state agency will justify its decision before proceeding any further against the business.

“I feel sorry for the S.L.A. They believe it doesn’t deserve a license, but must issue one on a former regime granting it, the old S.L.A,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney added that since the Soho Alliance cannot see how the bar could be in the public interest, the Alliance is “looking forward to some very creative writing” on the part of the agency.

He also said that since the court ruling granting the liquor-license application left open the possibility of further legal challenge by the Alliance, the threat of more legal action against the Patrick-Odeens is certainly a possibility.

Sweeney stressed that the S.L.A.’s joining the Alliance in filing the joint motion for a de novo review was truly historic. Yet, he said if the Soho Alliance finds the authority has issued the license for reasons the Alliance deems are not in the public interest, they might, “with great reluctance,” slap the S.L.A. with an Article 78 action, used to challenge the decisions of state and city agencies.

In a statement issued on their behalf, attorney Eric D. Sherman, counsel for the Patrick-Odeens, who were unavailable for comment, dismissed a previous claim by the Soho Alliance that issuance of the license was “arbitrary or capricious,” and described the November ruling as “altogether appropriate.”

“Now the focus is on opening the doors at this new location in March 2007. My wife and I hope to be among its first customers,” Sherman said.