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Bed-Stuy board rejects outpost of Williamsburg hipster dive-bar empire

Unwanted: The owner of Williamsburg metal bar Rocka Rolla wants to open the company’s first Bedford-Stuyvesant watering hole — but community members fear the outpost would edge out longtime locals.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

A Williamsburg hipster dive-bar empire’s expansion into Bedford-Stuyvesant is an unwelcome intrusion, say members of the local community board, who rejected its bid for a liquor license after locals grilled the owners on how many black employees they have and whether they put staff through “sensitivity training” to ensure they treat residents with respect.

The advisory-panel voted 25–1 against the forthcoming Bedford Avenue bar from the guys behind urban honky-tonk Skinny Dennis, hair-metal hangout Rocka Rolla, faux-British pub George and Jacks, and pooch-friendly hangout Lucky Dog, fearing it will be an outsider’s outpost that will refuse to assimilate with the neighborhood.

“This establishment is going to be built in Bed-Stuy, but it’s not for Bed-Stuy,” said Community Board 3 member Felicia Alexander, who voted against the liquor license. “They’re not looking to embrace the community and welcome us in.”

The booze-slingers — who plan to open their first non-L-train venture at the site of recently shuttered neighborhood staple Do or Dine near Quincy Street — told the board members and locals they currently have six black employees out of a total 24, and would consider the sensitivity training.

A partner in the venture assured the nay-sayers that the establishment will hire locals in the hopes they will draw a neighborhood crowd, and that all will be welcome at the new dive.

“It is for you, it is for everybody, and I hope you will get something out of it and give it a chance,” said real-estate broker Roni Dotan, whose bars are best known for spiked frozen coffee drinks served ironically in Anthora cups and a bus that ferries drinkers between all four locations. “I think if you went to our other bars you would see there is not one specific demographic.”

But one community member said the issue is not just black and white — the new breed of bars in the nabe are often unwelcoming to born-and-bred Bedford-Stuyvesant residents, and locals feel they are being overrun.

“It’s not necessarily a race thing — it’s just the employees within these establishments do not always make the people in the community feel welcome,” said Maria Flateau.

A few hardcore fans showed up to voice their support for the new venture — one barfly called one of the Williamsburg spots her “Cheers” — but the glowing reviews just added to the board’s skepticism.

“I have to applaud you — I think you’re the first to bring your own cheerleaders to a 4 am close,” said Alexander. “But that doesn’t do much to sway our view.”

The influx of hipster bars into the nabe has been an ongoing concern in Community Board 3. Last month, members put another trendy barkeep through the ringer, though the majority ultimately decided to approve his application.

The board also rejected another group seeking a liquor license for a Marcy Avenue cocktail and craft beer hangout at Monday’s meeting — only four rallied in defense of the bar while 17 gave it a flat “no” — citing community concerns about proximity to schools and an overabundance of alcohol sales in the area.

The board’s votes don’t actually stop the bars opening or getting a liquor license, however. Its decisions are passed on to the State Liquor Authority, which may or may not take them into consideration when deciding whether the bars gets to serve booze.

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at ahobbs@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8312.

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