The ongoing controversy over Union Hall bar in Park Slope is tearing apart the local community board as it heads towards Wednesday’s vote on the popular nightspot’s liquor license amid charges that one of the bar’s opponents has a conflict of interest and another opponent made a false 911 call.
Infighting has riven Community Board 6 since last week’s contentious committee resolution that urged the State Liquor Authority to deny the bar a renewal on its license unless it reduces the alleged noise that upsets many neighbors between Fifth and Sixth avenues.
But one of the supporters of that May 8 resolution, which passed 6–2, owns a bar himself — and is now facing a conflict of interest charge.
“The committee member who made the motion and spoke most aggressively in favor of it is a direct competitor to Union Hall’s sister bar [Floyd, on Atlantic Avenue],” a board member wrote to CB6 in an e-mail shared with The Brooklyn Paper. “It looks like the community board is being used to further the narrow business interests of one of its members.”
The board member, who requested anonymity, was referring to Lou Sones, owner of the Brazen Head bar on Atlantic Avenue. But Sones said his anti-Union Hall vote was shaped by his concern for residents of Union Street.
“A strong message has to be sent to the [State Liquor Authority] that bars should not be situated where it’s going to impact a residential community,” Sones told The Brooklyn Paper.
He added that he expects his business will actually be hurt by his vote because Internet criticism will drive the drinking public away from his establishment.
“It’s been all over the blogs, ‘Don’t go to The Brazen Head, because he’s a ‘terrible old fart,’” Sones said.
Sones is willing to endure an economic hit on his own bar, he said, because Union Street residents complained of nightly noise on their block since Union Hall opened in 2006.
But the anonymous board member, who is urging the full board to reject Sones’s motion when it meets Wednesday night, is concerned that the neighbors have exaggerated their gripes.
Exhibit A is video footage from the bar’s security cameras showing the bar on April 24 when a neighbor, a vocal critic of Union Hall, called 911, saying the bar was over-capacity.
On the tape, which is based on surveillance footage made available by the bar, opponent Jon Crow apparently enters Union Hall at 9:36 pm and quickly leaves. Later, at 10:34 pm, he returns to the bar’s entrance and leaves. At 10:54, according to records shown in the film, he called 911 to report “overcrowding conditions.”
The FDNY arrived, but found no such conditions. Images show that it’s a busy night — people are gathered around the bar and patrons were playing bocce on two courts in the back but it’s hardly teeming, suggesting that complaints have been overstated.
As a result, according to the people who put out the film, which is on the Web site of another local bar, the now-defunct Magnetic Field, the FDNY reported Crow to the fire marshals, apparently for filing a false report.
Crow, who was one of three signers of a three-page, anti–Union Hall memo that led to the May 8 liquor license hearing, testified that he called 911 because he heard the bar’s permits were expired. But he could not be reached for comment on Monday.
The pro–Union Hall board member wrote in his e-mail that the false alarm was “an egregious abuse of community resources.”
The board member also called for continued mediation between the bar and neighbors — negotiations that have shown some positive results in curbing noise from patrons in front of the bar, even by the admission of the neighbors. Though some opponents think it was a temporary ploy by Union Hall to facilitate their license renewal.
The bar’s owners say they’re open to compromise.
“We feel like it should be resolved on our home turf,” and not in Albany said Jim Carden, a Union Hall co-owner, though the sides are far apart on the sticking point of an appropriate closing time.
“I just want to sleep. That’s all I want,” said Robert Lehrman, at last week’s CB6 land use meeting. “If he would close early, we wouldn’t try to shut him down.”
Closing early on weeknights — some neighbors want Union Hall to shut at midnight — is “not a realistic option,” Carden said. “It’s not what New York City is about.”
It’s not the first time that CB6 has been deeply divided over the increasingly prevalent issue of late-night bars in residential areas. Last month, the full board voted 18–6 in support of a proposal by Black Mountain Wine Bar owner Jim Mamary to open an oyster bar on a residential block of Hoyt Street in Carroll Gardens.
In light of the CB6 committee rejection of Union Hall’s liquor license, neighbors of Mamary’s would-be establishment are hoping to have the board revisit the April 9 vote.
Community Board 6 will meet vote on the Union Hall resolution on May 14 at Borough Hall (209 Joralemon St., between Adams and Court streets in Downtown), 6:30 pm. Call (718) 643-3027 for info.