Troubled East Williamsburg venue Avant Gardner faces another costly lawsuit

avant gardner exterior
Avant Gardner, a popular venue in East Williamsburg, has been hit with a $2.6 million lawsuit.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

One of Brooklyn’s largest music venues, Avant Gardner, has been sued by a security firm it hired to carry out monitoring mandated by the New York State Liquor Authority following years of scrutiny regarding Avant Gardner’s ability to safely supply alcohol and keep its patrons safe.

T&M Security LLC, the firm chosen to monitor Avant Gardner, filed a six-count civil lawsuit accusing the venue of breach of contract, defamation and other civil charges in Manhattan Supreme Court Wednesday. T&M is seeking at least $2.6 million in damages after Avant Gardner allegedly illegally ended its monitoring agreement prematurely and refused to pay T&M. 

At time of publication, Avant Gardner had not responded to requests for comment.

This most recent lawsuit is seemingly the second being lobbed at Avant Gardner this month alone. Past patrons are suing the venue for $7.5 million after allegedly being harassed and assaulted by security guards, the Bushwick Daily reported on Aug. 8.

A troubled history at Avant Gardner

Spreading across an entire East Williamsburg block, Avant Gardner, which houses three separate venues including the Brooklyn Mirage, has been engaged in a struggle with the State Liquor Authority for the past five years after the SLA continuously voiced its concerns about safety on the premises. The venue opened its doors in 2017. By the end of 2020, the SLA had issued 23 disciplinary charges against Avant Gardner, according to a report from Brooklyn Magazine.

Avant Gardner owner Juergen “Billy” Bildstein, has previously accused the SLA of targeting his business, citing a $100,000 fine Avant Gardner was required to pay following the SLA’s disciplinary charges. 

Meanwhile, the SLA — which controls Avant Gardner’s ability to sell alcohol through a liquor license — has accused the venue of not controlling “rampant” drug use reported at the space and raised concerns about a number of deaths of individuals who have attended concerts or parties at the venue.

Most recently, two bodies were recovered from the neighboring Newtown Creek, with both victims having reportedly been on the premises of the Brooklyn Mirage in the hours before their respective deaths.

Exterior of Avant Gardner's Brooklyn Mirage outdoor concert venue.
Since June, two people have been found dead after having visited Brooklyn Mirage, part of the  venue.File photo by Lauren Gill

Before this year, three people attending separate events at the venue have died from apparent drug overdoses. The most recent death was that of a 23-year-old woman in 2021; which followed the deaths of a 21-year-old woman in 2018 and a 41-year-old man in 2018.

Also troubling to the SLA was the information that from 2018 to mid-2022, over 1,600 partygoers were treated at the Avant Gardner venue for altered mental states  — a condition frequently tied to drug use or intoxication — according to SLA records and Avant Gardner data also obtained by Gothamist

The SLA was made aware of both the deaths and the high volume of apparent drug use, and according to court documents, brought administrative charges against the venue in 2021. 

As part of a no-contest plea deal, the SLA issued a civil penalty to Avant Gardner and ordered a monitor be appointed to have “unfettered access to the licensed premises” of Avant Gardner during all hours of business operation for a one-year period.

Following the agreement, Avant Gardner selected security firm T&M USA LLC. from a list of potential monitors.

In November 2021, an agreement was met between both T&M and Avant Gardner which would allow T&M to act as the independent third-party monitor to conduct “audits, inspections and observations of operations” at Avant Gardner for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not the venue was complying with regulatory requirements set by the SLA.

Both T&M and Avant Gardner agreed to and were made aware of the $350 hourly billing rate charged by T&M, as well as specific out-of-pocket expenses, according to the lawsuit.

The SLA approved the security company to monitor Avant Gardner for an initial three-month period, and as required by the SLA order, T&M submitted a report summarizing their findings during that time period.

According to the initial complaint filed in court by T&M, their report to the SLA after the first three months identified some problems at Avant Gardner including evidence of drug use. The report then offered some recommendations to better deter drug usage on the premises.

At the end of the initial three-month period on March 30, 2022, Avant Gardner allegedly requested that the SLA reconsider the necessity of an on-site monitor. The request was rejected, and the SLA directed T&M to continue their monitoring for the remainder of the year-long period.

avant gardner exterior
The massive space is home to three separate sub-venues with a capacity of 6,000 people. Photo by Paul Frangipane

Court documents filed by T&M say Avant Gardner accepted the continued monitoring services, at the same time it opened an additional outdoor venue, which subsequently tripled the number of patrons at the location.

Consequently, T&M said its monitors noticed a significant increase in drug usage on site as well as a lack of effort on the part of Avant Gardner to meaningfully prevent overcrowding and other hazards.

The firm noted some difficulties with Avant Gardner’s granting T&M access and documentation, but continued to provide their services. T&M periodically invoiced Avant Gardner for their services adhering to their earlier agreements on the rate of pay.

Lawsuit accuses venue of withholding pay, illegally ending contract

Despite paying some of the invoices, Avant Gardner began to withhold payments of invoices which eventually culminated in $577,232.27 in unpaid fees.

On Aug. 17, 2022, without previous SLA approval and in alleged violation of the SLA civil order, Avant Gardner’s legal counsel attempted to terminate the T&M monitoring agreement, demanding that the security firm cease all monitoring activities of the venue.

The next day, apparently unaware of the attempt of secession, T&M monitoring agents who were in line both covertly and overtly to continue their monitoring services were removed and detained by Avant Gardner’s security staff before all agents were eventually escorted out of the premises and told not to re-enter. 

Following the apparently unrecognized termination of T&M and Avant Gardner’s alleged treatment of the firm’s monitoring agents,  SLA Commissioner and Chairperson Lily M. Fan stated during a public SLA meeting in September 2022 that there was no basis for Avant Gardner to end the agreement, and said T&M’s report showed “what is going on in there” and “indicates to me why they [T&M] were fired – because they were doing their job.”