Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The 200 Foot Rule: The Separation of Church and Sanity

By Gamal Hennessy

The laws that a society adopts are a reflection of the economic, social and moral standards of the time. In theory, as society changes and evolves, so do the laws. Unfortunately there is often a lag between social standards and legal standards. The laws and regulations that apply to nightlife are a prime example of this situation, since many of the modern laws have their roots in Prohibition. One of the most basic sacred cows that needs to be questioned is the so called 200 foot rule because it is often being used to suppress the industry not protect the community.

What is the 200 Foot Rule?
New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) decides who can legally sell alcohol and the circumstances of that sale. The SLA follows a set of laws called the Alcohol Beverage Control Law (ABC). Section 64(d)(8) of the ABC prohibits bars, clubs and lounges from operating within 200 feet of a school, church or other place of worship on the same street.

Why Was the Law Put in Place?
While it might seem like common sense to put some distance between nightlife venues and places of worship, the origin of the law needs to be considered. The 200 foot rule is a product of a very specific period in US history that was by and large anti liquor. Even after the end of
Prohibition there was a feeling that children and church going people should not be exposed to the evils of drinking. Creating distance between a church and a bar seemed to serve this purpose.

Why Do We Need This Law Now?
But New York in 2010 is not the same place that it was in 1933. Today, the idea that separating schools and churches from bars somehow protects the moral fiber of classrooms and congregations is laughable. Even if all three establishments were opened at the same time (they generally are not) there is no evidence that church goers would simply skip services and belly up to the bar, or that packs of drunken patrons would descend upon a Sunday school class to cause mayhem and destruction. Even if bars were pure dens of inequity and churches were total bastions of purity (which also isn’t true) there is no reason to believe that separating bars from religious buildings serves the public interest. Even if all the bars and all the churches were separated by 200 miles, good little students and pious church goers could still see the negative effects of drinking on any television channel, any movie screen, all over the internet and in their own homes.

If the 200 foot rule cannot achieve its goal of shielding a vulnerable group from dangerous exposure, then why do we need it? Why are we trying to limit an industry based on the social norms of pre-World War II America? New York nightlife brings business and cultural benefits to the city. A healthy and vibrant nightlife benefits property values, tourism, the economy and the social life of everyone in New York. Why try to hamstring such a vital part of the city?

How is the Law Being Used Now?
There are those that contend that the 200 foot rule is not a defense mechanism for congregations and students. They feel that it is
NIMBY weapon to limit the nightlife industry. Case in point; State Senator Daniel Squadron recently had to 200 foot rule modified with a minute technical point. Instead of measuring the 200 feet mentioned in the law from the edge of any school or church, Mr. Squadron pushed to have the 200 feet measurement start at the door of the church. While this is a small modification, the results could be significant when you consider that a door might be 15-20 feet away from the edge of the building, effectively making the 200 foot law into a 180 foot law. This small change might seem trivial until you consider how dense New York City is. Then when you consider how many different types of churches, mosques, synagogues, storefront churches, schools, day care centers and other similar institutions exist in the city, especially in certain neighborhoods, you begin to understand that the change in the law is a noose that could cut off the air to New York’s nightlife industry.

What are the Alternatives to the 200 Foot Rule?
I am not trying to suggest that nightlife venues become as all-pervading in New York as Starbucks, Duane Reade or Chase. I am not endorsing a nightclub on every corner with 24 hour bottle service and music in the streets. I am suggesting that there are methods and solutions to serve the public interest with regards to nightlife that are not based on irrelevant concepts and false morality. Proper zoning by the city can create areas where operators and residents are not constantly at each others throats. Modifications to building codes and thoughtful management of resources can limit the detrimental aspects of nightlife on a community and enhance the positive aspects. Changing the ABC law to reflect what New York is instead of what New York was can improve things for residents, patrons and operators alike. Hiding behind a outdated law might be politically expedient, but it does not serve the public interest.

Please keep in mind that neither the
New York Nightlife Association nor operators in general have not endorsed this idea. They have more practical concerns to deal with on a day to day basis and more political intelligence than I do. They don’t want to make their relations with the CBs any worse than it already is. NYN can raise these issues and at least introduce them for debate because we believe that debates on topics like this are useful if they can help revive the business and culture of New York nightlife.

Have fun.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

M2, Super Dive, Paul Seres and the New York Times

The Nightlife Report for April 22, 2010
Compiled by
Gamal Hennessy

…I hunt down the nightlife news so you don’t have to…

M2 and Pink shut down
(New York Times)
West Chelsea staples M2 and Pink were closed by the order of a special administrative judge on Friday. The venue is currently fighting threats to close it related to the
smoking ban but this new issue revolves around the actions (or inactions depending on who you believe) of the security guards. Police allege that they stand by while fights, drug dealing and other offenses are committed. As with other nuisance abatement related cases, there is still a lack in logic in the police approach. If cops see patrons dealing drugs, why not build a case against the dealers and arrest them? If fanatics are fighting in the club, why not arrest them? If the security guards and the other operators are not dealing drugs or fighting, why do the patrons get to commit crimes and walk away while the people who work at the venue are punished economically when the place is shut down?

Meatpacking’s newest dive bar might be a bittersweet memory. The venue has been through some
economic turmoil over the past few months and now it seems to be closed for good. That real estate might not sit on the market for long considering the location. Maybe the new operators will leave the beer pong table out of the new design plans.

Coming Soon
Le Baron
Black Book
A Parisian operator is bringing his exclusive lounge concept to New York. No official word on when the doors will open, but if exclusive lounges in Paris are anything like exclusive lounges in New York it will be small, annoyingly hard to get into and very, very trendy. Bonsoir.

Major News Outlets Planning Ongoing Nightlife Coverage
(Business Insider)
The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are both planning ongoing coverage of New York nightlife. They will throw their hat in with major news outlets like NBC, Blackbook and New York Magazine as well as smaller players like Thrillist and Urban Daddy. While the size and influence of these sources will get them into the biggest parties and the exclusive openings, it isn’t clear if they will devote space to ongoing issues in the industry that could use the exposure and reach to bring these issues into the mainstream. Of course, until they take up the mantle of in depth coverage of the business and culture of New York nightlife, you can always come back here…

New NYNA Head Paul Seres
(Good Night Mr. Lewis)
Leadership of the New York Nightlife Association has shifted. Long time president David Rabin has stepped aside and Paul Seres has stepped in. The operator, owner and community board member takes control of an organization dealing with political, economic and social issues of all types. This interview touches on many of the things he plans to tackle including security guard training, zoning and relations with the police. With a new head of the State Liquor Authority and a new head of NYNA can the industry make progress in light of all the things working against it in New York? Stay tuned…

Have fun.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Community Boards, NIMBY and the Quality of Life

By Gamal Hennessy

This article is based on sections of the recent book
Seize the Night: The Business and Culture of New York Nightlife.

In spite of the global popularity and reach of New York nightlife, local politics has a direct effect on the viability of clubs in the city to remain open. The main players that determine what happens in districts, neighborhoods and individual blocks are the local community boards or CBs. Natives who attend a liquor license hearings at regular CB meetings or the events like the nightlife discussion group at the recent
Community Convention would experience a lot of animosity from local residents directed at the industry. To understand where this anger comes from, it helps to know what the CBs are, what they want and think about how the industry and residents can work together instead of being enemies.

What is a Community Board?
Community Boards are meant to provide a voice for local residents as to how their neighborhoods operate. Created by the New York City Charter in 1963,
each of the CBs is supposed to consult, assist and advise government officials about any matter that relates to the welfare of the district or its residents. CBs normally deal with service delivery (such as sanitation or road repair), the city budget as it relates to each district, land use, long range planning and community advocacy. CBs also have a voice in zoning changes, since any application for a change in - or variance from - the zoning resolution must come before the Board for review and which is part of the final determination. Finally, CBs have the ability to initiate their own plans for the growth and well being of their communities based on the needs of their particular residents.

Who Sits on the CBs?
New York City has 59 individual CBs in total, 12 of them located in Manhattan. The CBs are technically autonomous from the city government, but the CB members are appointed by the Borough President, can include city employees and each board member is considered a city officer. Board members are selected from people who reside in, have a business in, or have some significant interest in the community. Nightlife operators, who clearly have an interest in the community where their business is located, can also serve on CBs.

While the CBs are designed to give local residents a voice in the operation of their communities, critics point out that many of their decisions and actions are made without due process or accurate representation of the community. It is primarily the people who attend the meetings who have the most influence in the decision making process, whether or not they represent the general views of their specific area. These “squeaky wheels” might be few in number, but if they are the only ones to speak on a particular issue, then they become the defining voice of the community. The phenomenon is analogous to voting in local and national elections. If only a small number of eligible voters participate, then their votes have more impact on the election than the silent majority has.

What is The Agenda of The CBs?
There are dozens of issues that each CB has to deal with - from sidewalks to community services, to traffic, to budgets. Each CB has its own particular needs based on the people who live in the respective communities. But when you look for the common thread among all the things that CBs deals with, what you find is that they are striving to improve their
quality of life as they define it. For some, a better quality of life comes from traffic free streets that are more accessible to pedestrians. For others, it’s continuously increasing property values for their condos and co-ops. In relation to nightlife, increased quality of life translates into the desire for clean, quiet streets that are safe to travel at night. The problem is that active members of many CBs do not feel that nightlife venues are conducive to their quality of life.

Many CBs feel that nightlife venues are magnets for noise, crime and vandalism in their communities. The main grievance of local residents is the noise from the areas around clubs and bars. People report finding urine, vomit, used condoms or even unconscious people in their doorways. There are anecdotal instances of local residents being harassed as they passed a club at night, having food or other objects thrown at them or being threatened by knives, bottles or hypodermic needles. They feel their neighborhoods have two personalities: during the day they are the envy of urban living, at night they become almost unlivable.

The CBs are not in the business of protecting and nurturing nightlife as a cultural environment. They are not tasked with generating revenue, tax dollars or tourism from a healthy hospitality industry. They are not guardians of New York’s reputation as a nightlife capital. While all CBs recognize the need for businesses in their communities and many of them understand the benefits of nightlife in the city, their main obligation is to their residents and the quality of life these residents want. The thought process is, “New York needs nightlife, but
not in my backyard (NIMBY).” If the residents want change, it makes sense for them to use the CBs to affect that change.

Common Goals
While the relationship between CBs and nightlife is often contentious, there are areas where they can find common ground. If noise and safety are the major concerns of CBs, then it would be in their best interest to support operators in the attempts to convince the NYPD to monitor the areas outside the venues that need it. CBs and operators in each district can work together to create more separation between residential and commercial areas. The density of New York prevents any major segregation of residential buildings, but including venues in the future planning of districts - instead of pursuing an agenda of removing them in favor of other types of business - is ultimately better for the CB and the nightlife industry. Speaking with a common voice in terms of new construction can also improve the quality of life, if both groups urge the use of soundproof windows and other measures to reduce noise in all new construction. Finally, if the CB and the operators work together to educate residents about the benefits of nightlife in their communities, there would be less of a NIMBY mentality associated with nightlife. There would always be “squeaky wheels” unsatisfied with the presence of clubs where they lived, but those voices could be tempered with more moderate positions.

Who Makes the Choices?
Of course, none of this cooperation can take place until each group sees the other as necessary to the overall prosperity of the neighborhood. Part of this means that more vocal anti-nightlife members of the CB need to see that nightlife is a vital part of both their community and New York as a whole. It also means that they might have to accept the economic reality that removing nightlife from their neighborhoods may reduce their quality of life and increase their taxes as vacant buildings attract higher crime or higher property taxes. Finally, it means that people who enjoy clubs need to stand up and say so. CBs have influence and political will to close venues. Until nightlife natives gain and use political will and influence to nurture and sustain our culture, New York nightlife will continue to suffer.

Have fun.G

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Boom Boom Room, Pain Killer and Rooftop Bars

The Nightlife Report for April 16, 2010

…I hunt down the nightlife news so you don’t have to…

Boom Boom
The very exclusive (although it claims not to be) lounge inside the Standard Hotel recently got conditional approval from the local CB to allow dancing inside the venue. Under the condition that the space is not “trying to become a club” then the DJ can drop tunes more conducive to dancing. I understand that the impact of the cabaret law is a complex issue, but the politics of dancing always disgusts me. The concept that a political body claims to have the right or authority to say who can and cannot gyrate in close proximity to members of the opposite (or same depending on the venue) sex is appalling. Luckily, the dance police and members of the community board can’t even get into the Boom Boom Room, so they won’t know we are dancing until they see the Facebook photos.

Coming Soon
Pain Killer
The former East Side Company space is re-inventing itself as a tiki bar/ speakeasy and opening next week. With veterans from the Little Branch, Milk and Honey and Dutch Kills school of cocktails this old space will try to bring a new twist to the cocktail lounge formula. Look for a full review here soon.

Bloomberg Achieves High Approval Rating
According to a Marist poll, 38% of New Yorkers feel that Mayor Bloomberg is the best mayor that the city has had since 1980. People polled cited improved quality of life, security and cleaner streets. While it is a subjective finding, nightlife natives know that Bloomberg has built part of his legacy by turning a blind eye to our industry. His zoning practices that pit residents against operators, his smoking ban that exponentially increased the noise issue, his failure to effectively deal with the cabaret law and the oppressive use of city agencies against venues are all indications that Marist didn’t poll many nightlife operators when they decided to conduct this survey.

Rooftop Bars
This is the third or fourth spring of the roof top bar in NYC. We have them downtown (Above Allen) in the Meatpacking District (Provocateur) on the West Side (Hudson Terrace) in Midtown (Empire Hotel and on the East Side (Mad 46). Zagat has recently put together a list of the bars with retractable roofs so you can live the high life rain or shine (just as long as you can pay for the cocktails. Retractable roofs are not cheap.)

Have fun.

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Covet, Exchange, La Biblioteca and Mission Delores

The Nightlife Report for April 9, 2010

...I hunt down the nightlife news so you don't have to...

Urban Daddy
The operator migration into midtown continues with a new lounge catering to the professional white collar set. Covet sits close to the 59th Street bridge and is sure to attract the Madison Avenue advertising and PR crowd, the international diplomatic corps from the UN and the newly minted six figure, expense account as accessory, corporate types looking for new hunting grounds. Will it be able to steal patrons away from downtown spaces like the Gates and Provocateur? On the weekdays, maybe. The proximity to home and office make it an attractive draw. On the weekends, maybe not, unless it can find a draw beyond being the fresh new face.

A bar in the Financial District plans to alter the prices on its menu in the same way Wall Street stocks go up and down on a daily basis. The more people order a particular drink or beer, the higher the price for that item will go. Unpopular items will decrease in cost as the night goes on. Considering the meltdown that Wall Street is still recovering from, I’m not sure this is a good idea. Sitting at the bar, how do I know that the managers aren’t padding the numbers to increase or decrease sales on a particular item? Am I really going to want to alter my drinking habits based on the prevailing market in the room? Are people going to start hedging and short selling their Jameson shots. It all too confusing for me, especially after I’ve had a few drinks.

La Bibliotecha
(Urban Daddy)
A new library is opening up a few blocks away from the huge midtown public library. But this new library doesn’t have any books, DVDs or old men sleeping in the corner. This library has over 400 different types of tequila, so it is sure to me more popular than the building with the lions in front of it. Similar to the Brandy Library in Tribeca, this library will have tastings and will store your personal collection of rare tequila in their vault. Now that I think of it, with all the high end liquor being served here, there will probably be old men sleeping in the corner here too.

Mission Delores
It was 86 degrees in New York this week which can only mean one thing; its beer garden season in Brooklyn. The same operators who brought you Bar Great Harry, this Park Slope, open air, former auto body shop will have almost two dozen beers on tap and specialty cocktails for those who like the beer garden concept but not the beer.

What is a Promoter?
If you asked ten people what a promoter is, you are likely to get 10 different answers and not all of them would be flattering. Toi Troutman attempts to nail down this amorphous and fluid hustle by defining the function, qualifications, personality traits and earning potential of a club promoter. She doesn’t go into the levels of competition, dealing with owners, negative perception by patrons or other downsides of promoting, nor does she offer any advice on how to actually start promoting, but if you wanted a basic idea of what the job is like this is a decent place to start.

Have fun.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Keys to the City Preview

By Gamal Hennessy

New York Nights is teaming up with Liquid Magazine to offer a new column called Keys to the City that will offer and insiders perspective on New York nightlife. The following article is a preview of what you can expect.

New York nightlife has enough different scenes to fit almost every taste, lifestyle and budget. Part of the magic of the city is that our size and our diversity create a range of experiences that I have only found in cities like London, Paris and Tokyo. As a writer and advocate of nightlife culture it is often difficult for me to make broad general statements about what bars and clubs are like in the city because the variety and choice here defy most attempts at simplification.

My work and my writing take me to a lot of different venues and I have encountered a lot of different aspects of what the city has to offer, but I think there are some things that are essential to a modern nightlife experience whether you are visiting the city for the first time or you are a seasoned nightlife native. I offer these observations and suggestions in the hopes that you will go out, enjoy yourself and have a greater appreciation of what nightlife in New York is all about.

Ladies: Let’s get one thing out of the way before we go any further; nightlife is a sexual metaphor and women are the soul of that image. They are who we want to see and be with when we go out. They are the reason nightlife has such a vibrant culture. They are the reason we spend money. While every city with nightlife has women, New York is the city where the combination of backgrounds, styles, nationalities, races, orientations and creativity of these women set the standard for women all over the world. New York women define New York nightlife. Everything else flows from them.

Dancing: There are a lot of things conspiring against dancing in New York City. Many venues are smaller than they were in the past, limiting the amount of space for dancing. The rise of bottle service has eaten up much of the remaining space. We even have anti dancing cabaret laws here (although they are not enforced with the same zeal as they were under Giuliani.) Having said that, there are still plenty of parties and plenty of places to get off your ass and (drink in hand) show the world you can do more than 2 step. House lovers have Sullivan Room and Cielo, among other spots. Salsa dancers can hit the Copacabana parties or Vudu. Reggae and soca lovers are in Roam and Element. Hip hop is played where ever you look. In the end, the only thing that can stop you from dancing is you.

Live music: People have come to New York to play music and hear music since Duke Ellington and Fats Waller played the Cotton Club. DJs, iPods and digital jukeboxes dominate the musical experience now, but there is something special that connects you to music when you hear it live. Legendary jazz spots like Blue Note, S.O.B.s, Garage and 55 Bar are all clustered together in the West Village. The East Village has the Knitting Factory, Pianos, Rockwood Music Hall and dozens of other venues. New hip hop acts will drop lyrics at Sin Sin, Canal Room or any place else where they can grab a mike. Patrons who go out to hear live music in New York are often listening to the next big thing, whether you are talking about Hendrix, Dylan, Bambatta or even Lady Gaga.

Unique Locations: Very few bars and clubs in New York are built from the ground up. Most owners go into spaces designed for a completely different purpose and recreate them into a new venue. Theaters, warehouses, storefronts, illegal massage parlors, banks, churches and other structures have all been used to create nightlife locations. The two major trends sweeping through the city now are the speakeasy and the roof top lounge. The speakeasies pretend to be hard to find and even harder to get into in an attempt to recreate the Prohibition Era feeling of transgression. The rooftop lounges use the skyline of New York itself as a back drop and many of them have retractable ceilings so you can party on the roof of a high rise in the middle of winter without catching pneumonia. Sampling both of these recent venue types will give you a new perspective to nightlife in New York.

High end drinks: Drinking is part of almost every nightlife experience, but in certain places drinking is the main point of the evening. I’m not talking about drinking to excess and blacking out in the back of a cab. You can do that in any bar. What I am talking about is going to those spots where the drinks are unique. Where the drinks are crafted with the same care and precision as a chef uses when he fawns over your meal at a five star restaurant. The return of the cocktail lounge is a recent phenomena in New York but there is a wide selection to choose from now. Whether you decide to visit, Milk and Honey, Flatiron Lounge, Mayahuel, PDT, Painkiller, Dutch Kills or Whiskey Ward you’ll get a drink worth savoring and a good reasons to go back to that bar.

There are as many reasons to go out into New York nightlife as there are people who go out. Whether or not you agree with my essential main attractions isn’t really the point. The point is for you to go out and find your own New York essentials and most importantly…

Have fun.

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