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CB2 plays Russian ‘Roulette’ by denying booze license to new arts space

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Local arts honchos and music-lovers are appalled that Community Board 2 has denied a new Boerum Hill theater what most area venues already have: a liquor license.

The board denied a license for Roulette — a renowned Manhattan arts center that is moving to the YWCA building on Third Avenue in September with a grand opening featuring Lou Reed — because some members said the venue could be a club in disguise.

Supporters say that the board gave the edgy Roulette a raw deal, especially when other theaters including DUMBO’s Galapagos Art Space and St. Ann’s Warehouse have licenses that allow in-seat swilling.

“What a shame!” said Nicole Federici, a Boerum Hill violist. “It’s like denying a major restaurant a liquor license and expecting them to make money off the food.”

Galapagos Director Robert Elmes also lamented the panel’s decision, saying that alcoholic concessions are critical revenue sources for theaters.

“Our model of funding has relied on the sale of cocktails in a social environment,” Elmes said. “We’ve never had problems. If it’s done smart, it can be done well, and Roulette is a very smart organizati­on.”

Roulette’s 20-year lease with the YWCA requires a midnight curfew and security to deter people from loitering after performances.

“I’m not quite sure what all the hoopla is about,” said YWCA executive director Martha Kamber. “Roulette would be a great addition to neighborho­od.”

At a public hearing last Monday, the board argued over whether allowing Roulette to serve liquor would bring drunken and rowdy concertgoers to the community — which is already rattled about the Barclays Center and at least two nightclubs slated to open next year.

“I’m just concerned that private events at the theater will bring promoters,” said board member Andrew Lastowecky. “This is a space for 600 people, and that scares the heck out of me.”

Boerum Hill resident Eric Albert was one of a few locals who said the theater hasn’t convinced neighbors that it won’t become a party zone.

“In the past when the Y leased this space, it was very loud, boisterous and spilled out on the street,” Albert said. “I just don’t want that in my neighborho­od.”

Roulette Director Jim Staley defended his operation.

“This is not a bar,” he said. “We’re not going to be a problem to the community.”

But in the end, the community board failed to pass either of two motions to approve a liquor license. One motion would have limited alcoholic beverage to the lobby, while the other would have allowed Roulette to serve booze after consulting the State Liquor Authority about where it could be consumed.

Testimony from Roulette’s former neighbors in Manhattan might have helped, but no one was on hand to back up Staley’s position.

“They had a respectful crowd, so we never had any complaints,” said Heather Wagner, a curator at Location One, a gallery next door to Roulette’s former stage on Greene Street in SoHo.

The community board rejection of any liquor license is only advisory; Roulette will still take its request to the State Liquor Authority.

This isn’t the first time CB2 has come under fire for refusing newcomers booze permits. After the board denied licenses to several restaurants including the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory on Fulton Ferry Landing, Borough President Markowitz told the panel to be more supportive of an eatery’s right to serve alcohol.

Roulette [509 Atlantic Ave. between Third Avenue and Nevins Street in Boerum Hill, (212) 219-8242]. For info, visit www.roulette.org.

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Reader Feedback

Jim from Boerum Hill says:
Maybe they should have voted against the arena if they were worried about drunken concert goers. 18,000 drunken people--225 nights a week--vs 600 two nights a week? Hmmm. Yeah terrifying. I mean, I know the reputation of the arts organizations in the Ys around the city. The 92YTribeca? I once saw a person in there that made less than six figures. Ew! They should have a separate license that only allows say beer and wine for establishments that they question. Oh wait, they already have that option. To me it is always a no-brainer. Without hard-alcohol, a bar it does not make. With just beer and wine, a true arts organization will be fine.
Aug. 2, 2011, 10:06 am
ch from bh says:
Roulette was applying for "full, on premises" license, which includes hard alcohol, not just beer and wine.

And there was never a chance to "vote against the arena," Jim. Neighbors have been doing anything and everything possible to prevent the arena for the past 8 years.
Aug. 2, 2011, 10:33 am
Frank from Furter says:
lets not confuse ignorance with the facts. The Y at 92nd street(and its branch in Tribeca) is a YMCA not a YWCA. Believe it or not they are vastly different organization-as is the YMWHA. Its one of the most successful Y's in the country with great events.

CB2 has consistently wanted more information and dialog about the Barclay center. Unfortunately its not had a real vote on anything concerning the Barclay...and even if it voted against a license at the Barclay, the Governor wouldn't listen anyway. Compare this to what happen in Nassau county were the people did have a voice(although they didn't come out to vote in any numbers about it)....

Both the Times and the Daily News indicated great skepticism about the Nassau center but hook line and sinker have blindly supported Ratner...its too bad they didn't look at this with a fair eye.
Aug. 2, 2011, 10:58 am
Eric Albert from Boerum Hill says:
Actually, what happened was the board effectively deferred a decision until such time as Roulette actually made an application to the State Liquor Authority.

The Roulette representatives appeared not to be too conversant with SLA rules and could not properly explain which license they wanted, although they did indicate that they wished to have the ability to served all types of alcohol at tables, not just beer and wine and not just in the lobby between acts.

The theater seems to not have any fixed seats and it is a large level floor suitable for many purposes other than theater seating.

This was not a public hearing and no one was permitted to speak either for or against. The board did make an exception to permit two local politicians to express community concerns.
Aug. 2, 2011, 1:16 pm
heather from manhattan says:
oh what a bunch of hooey. roulette is one of the few organizations left in this city that presents and encourages experimental music. the crowd is going to be mostly music nerds--many of whom are decades over the drinking age-- who are there for the music, not the booze. this is not a young raucous drinking crowd.

non-profit arts organizations who are trying to do something outside of mainstream culture have enough trouble trying to keep afloat financially. let them sell some drinks for pete's sake!

some of that music is tough to listen to without a few stiff ones!
Aug. 2, 2011, 5:50 pm
Eric Albert from Boerum Hill says:
Actually it isn't Roulette or their performances that really concern me, it is the use of the space when Roulette is not performing.

During the Roulette presentation to the Board, they made clear that the broad use liquor license was for the benefit of 'caterers' and others who would contract out the space from Roulette and would require such use for service to their cliental.
Aug. 5, 2011, 10:40 am

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