Tribeca bars hope law won’t be the last call

By Ronda Kaysen

The Bubble Lounge was bubbling at its 10th anniversary party on Tuesday night. Sleek Manhattanites trickled into the tony Tribeca bar all night, as the champagne flowed and the music pumped. But the champagne might not flow for much longer — Bubble Lounge could be forced to close.

The West Broadway bar could lose its liquor license because of a 1934 law that prohibits bars from opening within 200 feet of a house of worship or school. To Bubble Lounge owner Eric Benn’s surprise (and chagrin) a Sufi mosque, Masjid al-Farah, is located exactly 192 feet from his establishment’s front door.

The two establishments co-existed for the past decade without fanfare until the Liquor Store Bar, at 235 West Broadway, applied for a liquor license after it completed a $250,000 expansion. The bar, which had been in existence for 10 years, changed ownership a year ago.

When nearby residents learned that the new owners of Liquor Store Bar would be applying for a new liquor license, they opposed it. Frustrated by what they describe as a saturation of bars in the neighborhood, they urged Community Board 1 to oppose the application and informed S.L.A. of the nearby mosque.

“The issue to me is quality of life,” said Janna Mandel-Townsend, a Tribeca resident who has lived at 1 White St. for three decades. “This corner is known for too much bar activity. For many years everyone has known about the problems.” At a S.L.A. hearing last year, eight nearby residents testified that the proliferation of bars in the area was overwhelming.

Last December, the authority denied Liquor Store Bar a license because it was within 500 feet of several other bars and within 200 feet of a place of worship. And, in the process, the agency began investigating three other bars in the immediate area for being in violation of the 200-foot law. Cercle Rouge and the Tribeca Tavern sit on either side of the mosque and, like the Bubble Lounge, received notices that they could have their licenses revoked.

“If we were found to have been blatant in lying to the government, we could lose our license completely and never be able to get one in the State of New York again,” said Benn, who could move his door eight feet to be in compliance with the law or use an alternate door on N. Moore St. Moving the door could prove costly — and would not be possible without Landmarks Preservation Commission consent — and using the side street entrance “would affect foot traffic,” said Benn.

Cercle Rouge, which is next door to the mosque, has fewer options than Bubble Lounge, but its management is confident that their one-year old restaurant will not lose its liquor license. “Everything is okay,” said a manager of the French bistro who declined to give his name. “Right now the thing is between the lawyers. We’re waiting.”

Benn insists he never knew about the mosque, a claim Mandel-Townsend doubts. “Anybody who lives in this neighborhood knows about the mosque. If you live here you know what is here,” she said.

Despite Islamic prohibitions on alcohol, the mosque has voiced its support for the bars, its lawyers sending letters to S.L.A. on their behalf. “We hate to see people lose their jobs and lose their businesses,” said Kristine Jones, transitional administrator for the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Foundation, a Sufi organization that oversees the mosque. “I certainly understand the neighbors’ frustration, at the same time I also see that this is a livelihood for people and it’s really important for the neighborhood itself.” Jones said the neighboring bars have never been a disruption to the mosque, which has been at the West Broadway since at least 1990.

The S.L.A. declined to comment for this story because of ongoing investigations.

Last year, Community Board 1 urged the authority to consider that the neighborhood has an abundance of bars already — 31 in the immediate area, according to S.L.A. records — when making its decision about Liquor Store Bar. But recently, the bar owners have pleaded their case to the board. “Some [board] members feel they’re getting a bit of a raw deal because they had their license,” said C.B. 1 district manager Paul Goldstein. “I don’t know how fair it is to put them out of business if they’re legitimately in business.”


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