Former squatters fear bar next door will be a riot

Two men working on the new Nublu space outside the site this week. Someone had written “NO MORE BARS” on the construction fence, which was later altered to read simply “NO MORE.”  PHOTO BY GERARD FLYNN
Two men working on the new Nublu space outside the site this week. Someone had written “NO MORE BARS” on the construction fence, which was later altered to read simply “NO MORE.” PHOTO BY GERARD FLYNN

BY GERARD FLYNN  |  Of all the places in the world to hear noise complaints about nightlife, the once-anarchic C-Squat deep in the once-dangerous Alphabet City seems the unlikeliest.

For decades the squat was an alternative outpost and transient kind of home to homeless punks, hippies — like Texan Jerry The Peddler — and heroin addicts, making all kinds of music — and mayhem.

Today, however, said long-term dweller Brett “Pants” Lebowitz, the neighborhood has changed and so have the squatters.

At 41 years old, so has he.

“You can’t party all the time,” he said. And now he wants others, including rowdy frat boys at night, to follow suit and settle down, including those who use his front door as a latrine on nights out.

You can’t spend your entire life in dank basements drinking beer, advised the musician, whose apartment overlooks the scene at Avenue C and Ninth St.

In fact, the former squat is now an affordable co-op and the former squatters are now technically known as homesteaders.

While Lebowitz understandably has “no objection to loud music,” he does feel there are “too many bars” around him, and news that nightclub Nublu is moving a few doors down only amplifies his anger. Nublu, which is currently located between Fourth and Fifth Sts., plans to move to its new and much larger location in September.

Lebowitz said that the squat years ago listened to neighbors’ noise complaints about them and C-Squat cleaned up its act. The place now hosts less than a handful of parties annually, and inebriated patrons of Nublu should be considerate, he said.

But Nublu’s clientele might be too young for that kind of fatherly advice. And, according to club owner Illhan Ersahin, a Swedish native with Turkish blood, the bargoers at his place will have a lot of fun times to look forward to when the construction is over. He said he expects a regular crowd of about 200 will fill the new venue, which will be open until 4 a.m.

The nightlife operator said concern about noise at the soon-to-open location is news to him, and he looked quite perplexed that a quality-of-life complaint might be emanating from C-Squat.

His bar will not be on the lookout for loud students and, in a nod to the pre-gentrifying pioneers, Ersahin eruditely  observed that the East Village “has a tradition of cultivating culture…from Jack Kerouac to Talking Heads.” His club, he insisted, is just following that tradition.

He said that the prior complaints have come from those who don’t even live close to the existing club and “are the same people that have been complaining about us pretty much since day one.”

Nublu opened at 62 Avenue C in 2002, around the same time C-Squat was starting to undergo its conversion to an affordable co-op and market pressures from rising rents were being felt this far into Alphabet City, pushing gentrification eastward.

Ersahin said the club has even remained on the good side of Community Board 3, which has “approved everything we have asked for,” he said, “because finally they know what we are doing.”

He said he’s telling everyone “not to worry” and that the new place will have sound insulation. But Lebowitz isn’t reassured. Instead, he sees a “megabar, two stories high,” full of drunks, “who at closing time will pour onto our streets to fight and piss and make a mess.” Fights outside the 99-cent pizza joint below his window are common. More police response, anemic so far, is needed, he said.

Shayne, another longtime C-Squat denizen, where the maintenance charge on units can run $600 per month, has taken a peep inside the project, which has a ceiling that he estimates rises 24 feet from the basement. He said the work has literally “shaken” the block, sending vibrations the likes of which the veteran construction and metal worker has never experienced before.

For the more subdued Jerry The Peddler, who has lived there for 13 years, noise isn’t the issue. He’s less troubled by the bars than the “aging frat boys” who frequent them and who he feels somewhat sorry for.

The graying 65-year-old, with a brush beard that a family of sparrows could squat in, went AWOL during the Vietnam War and to the stockade not long after. He advises the frat boys to grow up, mature even.

In fact, Jerry The Peddler has lived within less than a half-block radius of C-Squat for 30 years, so he’s really seen the neighborhood’s transformation. He, too, cited the pizza place as a nighttime noise issue. Yet, as for mayhem and fights, he said it doesn’t depend on the bars or even the cheap pizzeria.

“It’s Avenue C,” he said. “With or without bars, fights are going to happen.”