State Liquor Authority Serves Sobering News to Il Bastardo

On Sun., May 28, the brunch crowd that once brought a “bacchanal feel” to Seventh Ave. was nowhere to be seen. Photo by Scott Stiffler.

BY WINNIE McCROY | On Wed., May 24, the Chelsea restaurant Il Bastardo (191 Seventh Ave., btw. W. 21st & 22nd Sts.) brought a pending case before a full board meeting of the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA), attempting to illustrate how the owner had made changes to curb the public drunkenness and rowdy behavior at the restaurant’s now-infamous weekend brunches. After threatening to end the brunch altogether, the SLA handed them a $10,000 fine and stipulations that there be no music of any kind played during brunch.

“There was a bacchanal feel to the brunches, and he has eliminated this,” said Thomas J. McCallen, Esq. of Carreras & McCallen PLLC, the lawyer representing owner Tarek Alam in case number #114207, Mangaroni LLC Il Bastardo.

Chairman Vincent G. Bradley dismissed several of the charges, but sustained complaints that on Aug. 21, 2016, the business had failure to conform to application, failure to comply — unlicensed cabaret, and failure to supervise. Some points at issue were interior non-compliance with the permit regarding a DJ booth and selfie booth.

McCallen said that since the winter, Alam had been meeting regularly with local interests, including Community Board 4, the Council of Chelsea Block Associations (CCBA), the 13th Precinct, and City Councilmember Corey Johnson’s office.

“This is an example of the perils of purchasing through a stock deal,” McCallen said, referencing how Alam came to be in possession of Il Bastardo. The current problems, he noted, can be traced back to the introduction of prix fixe brunches.

“The next thing we see is a series of violations that the authorities were intimately aware of,” McCallen said. “I addressed that with him and asked what changed. In a large part, the brunch itself got celebrity press, the restaurant caught on and became — no pun intended — an intoxicating situation where brunch was driving the operation. But it was a period of months, not years.”

The SLA noted that the restaurant had other open cases against it over multiple charges from behavior, stemming from an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) report, causing Chairman Bradley to remark that none of those open cases “involved dinner, which suggests the restaurant shouldn’t do brunch.”

“I spent a great deal of time with Mr. Alam telling him that despite what you feel and think in inheriting this method of operations, there are strict rules preventing this disorderly noise and some of these activities. But they can be rectified. My first suggestion was ‘You need to be a presence there every weekend for these brunches,’ ” McCallen said.

But Chairman Bradley was not mollified, saying, “I don’t know that that’s really giving me any security. Let me tell you where I want to start. No DJs, ever. The DJ booth needs to be pulled out. And I would suggest you get rid of the selfie booth, which is somewhere that women like to go to disrobe.”

McCallen said both the DJ booth and selfie booth had been removed, and gave a rundown of other changes Alam had made — among them, regulating the crowd with a strict reservation-only system that eliminated occupancy by half, more security, and increasing the price on the prix fixe menu from $35 to $65, which he said draws an older crowd seeking a more conventional brunch. He also noted that Alam is on the premises every weekend.

“Why do I have to wait this long for him to change something?” countered Chairman Bradley. “He got notice of pleading in August, he’s aware brunch was a problem, and he didn’t do it by January, when the next charge came down. If this was the only thing, I’d probably be able to do what you want. But given what’s coming with the other cases — I’m assuming they’ll all go to hearing and similar charges will be sustained — I think we’re all wasting our time. And he may be wasting his money. We could be back here in three months and I could be cancelling him.”

But McCallen argued that the club had no recent cases of violence or disorderly conduct, no drug trafficking, noise complaints were eliminated, and Alam had instituted a zero-tolerance policy.

Perhaps moved by the attorney’s argument that all of his client’s investments were tied up in the establishment, Chairman Bradley took pity, saying, “Are you willing to live with no recorded music whatsoever, and a $10,000 fine? This was out of control so I’m going to control it for a period and then see what happens with the other complaints.” He permitted background music during dinner. The lawyer agreed to the stipulations.

William Crowley, Director of Public Affairs at the SLA, confirmed that the Board “imposed a $10,000 fine for one case, #114207,” but noted that “there are four additional pending cases against the licensee.”

Il Bastardo’s liquor license attorney, Bruno V. Gioffre, will likely handle some of these upcoming cases. Gioffre reiterated the laundry list of corrective actions the establishment had made, among them Alam being present on weekends and being in contact with Councilmember Johnson and CO Deputy Inspector Brendan M. Timoney of the NYPD’s 13th Precinct. Gioffre added that restaurant reservations had been cut by half, security had been increased, and there were virtually no lines or crowds outside.

“From January to now, since I went to the 13th Precinct, there have been no complaints or 311 calls. I’m working on this every day. We made a mistake and now it’s been corrected,” said Alam at the hearing.

He also said that General Manager Sherif Ibrahim had been attending CB4 meetings with District Manager Jesse Bodine, as well as meetings with CCBA President Bill Borock.

But Borock said that by this point, it’s a case of “the boy who cried wolf,” noting that he had been less than enthusiastic about meeting with the manager. He told this publication that he was not receptive to Bodine’s urgings to have Ibrahim talk the situation over with the CCBA, although he did welcome them to a meeting. The SLA may have been sympathetic, but Borock was not.

“You had your chance,” Borock said of the situation. “It’s enough. The community at a minimum wants their liquor license taken away, and at maximum would like to see them close. They’ve been too much trouble all of these years, and this would teach them a lesson, which is what they deserve.”

It remains to be seen as to whether the SLA will deem the changes at Il Bastardo to be sufficient. As Chairman Bradley noted, “This one’s corrected, but you still have more coming down the road.”