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

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

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.

Jim Staley, director of Roulette, an avant-garde arts group, has run afoul of some locals for his plan to serve booze inside his venue, which is being built in the empty YWCA theater at the corner of Third and Atlantic avenues.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini