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Whine merchants! ‘Overwhelmed’ W’burgers oppose $11 Cabernet bar

Luis Santiago, a neighborhood resident, stood up for his claim that noisy slug and chug bars only let him sleep for three hours in a good night.
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A small, but angry, group of Williamsburg residents, claiming that the neighborhood is oversaturated with watering holes, picked an odd way of making its case on Thursday night by vehemently protesting a liquor license for an upscale wine bar while not making a peep as 19 other bars in the same neighborhood were approved for the same licenses by a Community Board 1 panel.

About a dozen opponents focused their assault solely on the owners of Custom American Wine Bar at the CB1 Public Safety Committee hearing, clashing with at least 30 supporters of the upscale bar, which will be on relatively quiet Driggs Avenue near Metropolitan Avenue.

Opponents say the wine and tapas bar will attract binge drinking frat boys and gang violence, but co-owner Stefan Mailvaganam, who also co-owns Bar Carrera, a tapas bar in Manhattan, fired back, presenting a petition with more than 300 signatures, including one from an NYPD detective from the neighborhood.

His supporters questioned the opponents’ motives.

“Custom American Wine Bar will attract the opposite of gangs and frat boys,” said Yann de Rochefort, who owns Boqueria tapas bar in Manhattan. “The community board should encourage places like Stefan’s.”

But the Public Safety Committee did not fully agree, sending a mixed message in the form of a tie vote — the only non-approval of a very long night of rubber-stamping liquor license applications. The full community board will settle the issue on Wednesday night.

The saga to get a license has consumed four months and $20,000, said Mailvaganam and his co-owner Dan Lathroum, who particularly objected to opponents’ claim that “outsiders” have ruined Williamsburg because he lives on N. Fourth Street, not far from his proposed bar.

“If [CB1] is looking for the voice of the community, then they should listen to our supporters, not the three protestors,” he said.

Typically, it does — or, more accurately, doesn’t need to because liquor license controversy is extremely rare, said Committee Chairman Mieszko Kalita. “This is the first time there has been such a roar [about a license],” he said.

It is unclear what the opponents find specifically objectionable about the wine bar. Opponents would not talk on the record, but they did circulate an unsigned e-mail that began, “The fight against the bars continues.”

“The issue is not whether the bar owners are nice and willing to negotiate with the community, but that there are already five establishments with full liquor licenses within 500 feet [of Custom American Wine Bar],” it said. “We can’t be distracted by the owners’ statements that they want to be a part of our community and improve it! Those statements are both vague and a bit patronizing. We have the right to chose what constitutes improvement and livability.”

The e-mail wrongly suggested that the State Liquor Authority’s “500-foot rule” requires that bars be separated by at least that distance. In fact, the rule merely gives the State Liquor Authority greater oversight if a bar wants to open within 500 feet of three existing establishments with liquor licenses.

And many wine bars skirt such issues by applying only for beer and wine licenses, not full booze permission.

The opposition is being spearheaded by Nancy Wechter, who, ironically, lives in libertine writer Henry Miller’s childhood home on Driggs Avenue. When it came time for her to speak at the hearing, she addressed the wine bar’s co-owners: “I respect your professionalism, but I am here to prevent yet another bar from depriv[ing] us from sleep. I don’t want to be run out of my house.”

To counter that, the wine bar owners produced letters from a Manhattan community board and one from Bar Carrera’s landlord — both testifying that Mailvaganam and Lathroum had never received a noise complaint or had problems with neighbors.

The hearing was frequently heated, with the owner of the building, Dobrivoye Filipovich, getting tossed after calling a staffer for Councilwoman Diana Reyna “a drug dealer” and branding Wechter a “criminal.”

Later, his son, Greg Filipovich, said that he trusts the wine bar owners and, besides, he needs a stable tenant to fill his empty space.

“My taxes have doubled from $20,000 to $40,000,” he said. “If we can’t get this liquor license then I will have to open a 24-hour bodega that sells beer, and maybe even wine. Then, [the neighbors] will really get a crowd of kids hanging around.”

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Reader Feedback

tippler from dive bar says:
“If we can’t get this liquor license then I will have to open a 24-hour bodega that sells beer, and maybe even wine.” Well, no; not in the state.
Oct. 12, 2009, 12:39 pm
dicky shirishani says:
you have to make a list
Oct. 12, 2009, 4:07 pm
a local resident says:
"Upscale" or otherwise. You have to start somewhere. How can this neighborhood support yet another bar? It's at the point of diminished returns.
Oct. 13, 2009, 3:36 pm
long-time local says:
A while back, Soho got a moratorium on new liquor licenses because the residents (who are wealthy and connected) couldn't get to sleep in their million-plus lofts.

The people who have lived here for years are neither wealthy nor connected nor particularly organized. The Polish don't talk to the Latinos who don't talk to the Italians who don't talk to the Hasidm. But we all complain to ourselves and realize how bad it has become with the bars and clubs on every block.

We need a moratorium as well, but who will organize us?
Oct. 14, 2009, 3:46 am
faye from Williamsburg says:
It's the old issue of profit before people once again. A bar owner wanting to make a profit comes into a neighborhood where he sees weakness, puts on a slick presentation about how good this bar will be and pulls the wool over people'e eyes about how good it will be for the neighborhood.....Nevermind that there are real, vulnerable lives being affected. It's a snow job. No one who lives in the immediate area of the bar wants it.

Problem for Williamsburg is with all the bars and bridge and tunnel crowds that they are bringing in, fewer sane folks are buying condos. Why pay to live in this kind of cllimate.

So many bars competing with one another will soon spell their demise. What starts as a wine bar will have to do anything they can to stay in business.
Oct. 14, 2009, 12:08 pm
Sammi from 11211 says:
Then organize to advance a moratorium. Just trying to spare your own block from another restaurant with a liquor license is pretty futile. Helping find a solution to the untenable situations with all the existing loud bars and drunk idiots clogging up sidewalks smoking and yelling in the streets, should be job one. Time for it to be pushed higher on the community agenda.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/cb1info/?yguid=404478733
Oct. 18, 2009, 11:08 pm

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