Community Board 7 has turned thumbs-down on a liquor license request for a new club made by the owner of controversial Sunset Park club Love & Lust, which shut its doors after its liquor license was canceled by the State Liquor Authority (SLA) in May.
Community members packed the room for the Tuesday, July 17 Public Safety Committee meeting at which the application made by Imran Jairam, the owner of KB Venture group, on behalf of a new club, Starway 2826 LLC, located at 225 47th Street, the former site of Love & Lust, was discussed.
According to CB 7 Chair Cesar Zuñiga, after the nearly two-hour meeting, only one committee member voted in favor of the application, with seven voting no and three abstentions, flying in the face of a statement made by the club’s attorney, Eric Sanders, a retired police officer, who told members, “The only thing you need to know is there never was any crimes or anything related to the club.”
However, Sunset Parkers clearly did not see it that way. While Jairam told committee members, “The charges that were originally sustained are now reversed because I did have a cabaret license and did have a proper security investigations license,” attorney Delvis Valdes, who questioned Jairam at length, pointed out, “Now you’ve formed a new corporation and you are the principle of that corporation. So basically you’re just asking for your license back. The only thing different is that the corporate name has changed.”
Love & Lust has long had a checkered reputation in the neighborhood, and has complained of being harassed by the police. This came to a head back in May, when the club filed a $125 million notice of claim against Deputy Inspector Emmanuel Gonzalez, the commanding officer of the 72nd Precinct. Jairam alleged that Gonzalez demanded contributions to Puerto Rican relief efforts to forestall enforcement of violations at the bar. Valdes is representing Gonzalez in that action.
Back in May, the club had four open cases pending against it with a total of 11 charges, including, “becoming a focal point for police attention and failure to supervise and disorderly premises,” according to the SLA, which said it canceled the liquor license, “due to the sheer number of violations and repetitive nature of the violations.”
Police Officer Sean Spencer of the 72nd Precinct recounted for the committee the variety of incidents that had brought police to the club since its opening: one incident inside in 2014, the year it opened; six incidents inside and two outside in 2015; five outside and four inside in 2016; 13 inside and 13 outside in 2017, and five inside and eight outside in 2018.
“All these numbers are documented in the SLA reports,” Spencer said.
“The charges made against us, we beat 95 percent of those because we proved those were on Second and Third Avenue,” Jairam rejoined. “I understand your facts but we have ours too.”
The need for an increased police presence at the club means cops were drawn away from other areas of the precinct, said local activist Maria Roca. “The precinct can’t be everywhere,” she said.
Things started to get heated when Jairam responded.
“We didn’t need it and that’s why it’s under investigation,” he said. “There’s just a lot of false information. I know there’s a big fan club in here for somebody as well.”
Jairam was presumably referring to Gonzalez and Zuñiga quickly responded, calling the club owner’s remarks “highly inappropriate. If there is a case that is pending litigation, this is not the forum to talk about it.”
“He was only addressing the question she had,” Sanders responded, adding, “There is no evidence that police resources had been reallocated because of some imbalance in police resources and response.”
When asked about noise complaints, Jairam said there hadn’t been any. “There were no noise complaints because no one lives on the block,” he said.
However, Samuel Sierra, the committee chair, disagreed, pointing out that patrons, on their way to and from the club, walked or drove along residential blocks
“We don’t begrudge anyone here from prospering,” he said. “However, it should not be at the expense of the community. Just understand that, although that little area may be industrial, the large surrounding area is not. It’s filled with families. You have schools right around there.”
Sunset resident Gloria Patricia Novoa agreed.
“I own a family home below Second Avenue so, no, it’s not just industrial,” she said. “I have tenants that have to live. And when they tell me, I can’t go here because I’m concerned, I drive there to see what’s going on, and when I realize they are all coming from around 47th street and Second Avenue, you become my problem.”
However, Angela Correa, property manager of two East of Hollywood clubs in Sunset Park, came to Jairam’s defense.
“I too went through a lot with the 72nd when Deputy Inspector Gonzalez was promoted,” she said. “Since last year it’s been the craziest situation. We lost about $500,000 due to the letters he sent to the SLA. We were bullied when we’ve been in this community since 1939. I heard about this and I had no idea they were my neighbors. We talked and we had a lot of similarities.”
She added that racism could be a reason for the club’s issues. “I’m really disappointed with the community because I feel Love & Lust is being called out and they want to get rid of him because it’s an African American establishment,” she said. “The beer garden doesn’t get this. No other establishment does.”
The crowd was outraged by the statement. “They don’t care about race,” said Valdes. “It’s about when you serve patrons booze to the point where they’re inebriated and send them out to the street.”
“Every business should be a good neighbor, but to suggest somehow that he’s legally responsible for five and 10 blocks down, he can’t be,” replied Sanders.
“If we were such a problem, the majority would’ve heard of us prior to closing,” added Jairam. “Things have come out afterwards. I’m not here to argue or litigate. I just want to get back in business. Anyone in their heart knows we were never a problem to this community prior to these last 60 days.”
After the vote was announced, many that stayed behind cheered. Zuñiga said, “I don’t have a problem writing the letter (to the SLA) that explains what happened.”
The SLA will decide on whether to issue a liquor license to the new club.