Lola wants live music; S.L.A. sings different tune


By Barrett Zinn Gross 

It ain’t over till the fat lady sings, or so the saying goes. But is it over at Lola, the beleaguered Soho restaurant, without the fat lady — or any person of any size or gender, for that matter — ever having crooned a tune?

On Thurs., March 20, the State Liquor Authority voted to decline Lola restaurant’s request to add live music performances to its liquor license. The restaurant’s owners have stated they need live music to stay afloat.

The board meeting took place in Albany, with a teleconference link to the S.L.A.’s New York City office in Harlem on 125th St. and Lenox Ave. 

Appearing in person before the board in Albany was attorney Terry Flynn, representing Lola, which is located on Watts St. In opposition were attorney Barry Mallin representing the Soho Alliance and John Evans, a resident of 362 West Broadway and a member of the Soho Alliance. Also speaking from New York City via teleconference was Gayle Patrick-Odeen, a co-owner of Lola.

It was the third hearing on Lola’s live music request; at previous hearings on Feb. 20 and March 5 the S.L.A. postponed making a decision. 

S.L.A. Commissioner Noreen Healey said the board had reviewed the transcript of Lola’s 500-foot-rule hearing that was held in 2004 and found no clear evidence that Flynn had acted to amend the original application document, which indicated background music only. Healey acknowledged that Mallin and Soho Alliance Director Sean Sweeney had spoken against live music at the hearing, but said that Flynn’s actions were “ambiguous.” Flynn claimed in previous hearings that he had “verbally” amended the application at the 500-foot-rule hearing. 

The S.L.A.’s vote was without prejudice, meaning the matter can be brought up before the S.L.A. board yet again. Healey also suggested that Lola could return to Community Board 2 to discuss the issue further. 

In a press release by the Soho Alliance, Sweeney said, “This decision by the S.L.A. is a major victory for beleaguered neighborhoods beset by an oversaturation of late-night, licensed premises. … Despite unanimous opposition from Community Board 2 and every elected official in the district, the ‘old, corrupt’ S.L.A. granted the license. … The ‘new’ S.L.A. observes the 500-foot rule.” 

Patrick-Odeen was as disappointed as Sweeney was ebullient. In a phone interview, she said, “It was as though they didn’t want to hear from me. I had the resolution in my hand,” referring to a C.B. 2 Business Committee resolution from 2004 that endorsed live music at Lola. Healey had said in justifying her decision that the application specifying background music was the only thing the community board had considered. 

Given the long-standing animosity between Lola’s owners and some members of C.B. 2 — Sweeney is a member of the community board — Patrick-Odeen said she felt that returning to C.B. 2 would be “a fool’s errand.” In a phone interview, Lola attorney Flynn said his clients were weighing their legal options, which include returning to the S.L.A. with more evidence or filing an Article 78 petition in New York State Supreme Court. 

There is currently an Article 78 petition before State Supreme Court seeking to annul Lola’s current liquor license. In that case, Lola attorney Eric Sherman has filed a motion including affidavits from four named petitioners — among them Ethan and Ivan Karp of OK Harris Gallery — who allege they never gave the Soho Alliance permission to use their names in legal proceedings against Lola. The Karps’ names were included on a Soho Alliance petition against the restaurant, but they say they approve of Lola. Judge Marilyn Shafer, who annulled Lola’s first liquor license in 2005, has set an April 3 return date on Sherman’s motion.