Troubled Watering Hole Warrants SLA Scrutiny

May 18 will be the third time in two months the State Liquor Authority has met regarding quality of life complaints stemming from Il Bastardo. Chelsea Now file photo courtesy CCBA.

May 18 will be the third time in two months the State Liquor Authority has met regarding quality of life complaints stemming from Il Bastardo. Chelsea Now file photo courtesy CCBA.

BY WINNIE McCROY | After years of enduring the weekend crowds flowing from Il Bastardo restaurant (191 Seventh Ave., near W. 21st St.), Chelsea residents have had enough of the drunken patrons, vomiting, public urination, nuisance incidents, and occasional violence. The NYPD has conducted hearings with the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA), and called firsthand witnesses forth to testify. Hearings took place on April 19 and 25, and the next one is scheduled for May 18.

“On weekends when they have their brunches, they seem to have fostered a culture of young people drinking to excess,” Council of Chelsea Block Associations (CCBA) President Bill Borock recently told Chelsea Now by phone. “And what I’m most surprised about is that it’s not just guys! Young women are coming out drunk, vomiting, being rowdy, and falling down on the sidewalk. I live on 20th Street right off Seventh Avenue, and we recently got a picture of two young women urinating on the side of our building.” 

Several other neighbors commented on the large number of inebriated young women exiting Il Bastardo, with Alison Rose calling the weekend brunch fiasco “a circus of girls’ tits and asses, frankly.”

“Everyone is incredibly inebriated, boobs falling out, bumping into you, vomiting,” said Rosa. “They’re loud, smoking, and unpleasant. It’s an out-of-control feeling of recklessness. And they’re making a shitload of money off this dangerous, volatile mess. It’s like a train wreck, with half the people holding the other half up, girls holding their friends’ hair while they’re vomiting. It’s not what this — or any neighborhood — wants to be.”

Competitive figure skating coach Kenny Moir said his apartment overlooks Il Bastardo, and he’s often called 911 about the drunken crowds. He recalled a recent New Year’s Eve when there were “so many emergency vehicles collecting drunk patrons that Seventh Avenue shut down!”

It made Moir look back fondly to the good old days when nightclubbers quietly hit The Limelight and the VIP Club, and “rarely needed to be toted out by the EMTs.” He blamed unresponsive doormen, pointing to the time he witnessed “a woman in a really elegant cocktail dress and stiletto heels lying on the ground at 3 p.m. on a Sunday.” He said Il Bastardo staff ignored him when he asked them to provide her with medical attention.

In another incident, Moir said he saw three or four cars double park to hold a twerking contest between them, adding, “These women could barely stand up, and they’re getting into vehicles and driving? I found out a bunch of people called 911 about this, and were told that they couldn’t do anything, because they hadn’t committed a crime yet.”

Borock said Il Bastardo representatives told him if he didn’t witness these “rowdy” people exiting their restaurant, they could not be held to blame, saying they tried to deflect the problem onto the local liquor store.

“But obviously, when you see the crowds on the sidewalk, you know it’s them,” said Borock. “It’s crowding, quality of life offenses, fights including a stabbing, and the regular presence of ambulance and police. It’s been ongoing since 2015 at least.” 

Bruno V. Gioffre, the liquor license attorney for Il Bastardo, said the restaurant had taken steps to reduce the number of patrons and had already seen a change.

“They have already done certain things to curtail the issues presented by the Community Board to them, and it’s come out through some residents who have testified so far that things have been changing in a positive direction, and we hope it will continue in that same direction,” said Gioffre.

SLA STEPS TO THE PLATE | For their part, neighbors were happy to hear that new SLA Associate General Counsel Margarita Marsico reached out on April 17 to accept written statements from residents. Several neighbors recently testified at April 19 and 25 SLA hearings — and it was not the first time the SLA had heard a case against the restaurant.

“We have a number of cases open against this premises, alleging a profound course of misconduct by the licensee. The SLA always takes the concerns of the local community into serious consideration during the course of our disciplinary proceedings,” said SLA General Counsel Christopher Riano.

Borock said he attended previous hearings on two cases months ago, and was told that one was dismissed, and another was with the commissioners. He said that an administrative judge hears the case and makes a decision in four to six weeks, then their decision goes to the SLA Board of Commissioners in Albany for review. They either let the judge’s ruling hold, or overturn it. Borock said the second case they heard months ago is now with this Board in Albany, and they have four more hearings set.

He added that they had also brought their issues with Il Bastardo to the attention of Community Board 4 (CB4), which issued stipulations. While Borock did not feel this was enough, he conceded that CB4 would work to find a solution that suited the entire community.

CB4 District Manager Jesse Bodine noted that CB4 is an advisory body, with no ability to close any business or strip any permits, saying, “That’s not our ability, nor should it be. But we have a nuisance reporting protocol, because we have so many bars and restaurants in our area that occasionally conflict with neighbors.”

Chelsea Now has followed CB4’s of problems with this establishment, reporting in a Dec. 7, 2016 article (“State Liquor Authority Hears Litany of Complaints Against Il Bastardo”) that two dozen community members had shared their stories with a pair of SLA representatives. Among the incidents was a case when “patrons severely beat and stabbed a man on the corner of Seventh Ave. and W. 21st St. following an altercation after leaving Il Bastardo.”

“I don’t want to even use my name, but I have to speak out,” said Diane, a 20-year resident of Chelsea. “I witnessed a stabbing in the middle of the street. Five police cars from Precincts 10 and 13 were there for hours, and an ambulance took the person away. When they held their hearing about this two months ago, the two offers who witnessed the stabbing didn’t show up. Police need to turn up and give their evidence! Margarita Marsicone asked me to get to the April 25 hearing at 9 a.m. to go over the pictures I took, and if she asks me to testify, I will.”

A Jan. 11, 2017 article (“State of the Boozin’ Address: Local Bar Scene Booming”) revisited these quality of life issues, with CB4 Chair Delores Rubin noting that laying out guidelines with operators before opening often helps curtail such issues.

But from Bodine’s perspective, the problems were due to problems with the restaurant’s operations and occupancy, which he said they have had plenty of time to solve by dealing with crowds and over-serving.

“What restaurant do you know that needs all of these security guards? We have restaurants throughout our district that serve hundreds of people a day and don’t need security,” said Bodine. “So until that is resolved and their method of operation is changed to not require this, I don’t think you’ll have a real resolution of these quality of life and safety issues. It’s who they serve, and how they serve.”

Diane did end up testifying at the April 25 SLA hearing, and said that the police officers who witnessed the stabbing are scheduled to testify at a May 13 SLA hearing.

CB4 CHARTS HISTORY OF BAD BEHAVIOR | This pattern of problems can be traced back to early in the restaurant’s history. In April 2009, when the restaurant applied for renewal of their sidewalk cafe license, CB4’s Quality of Life Committee expressed concerns as to whether the business needed one or two sidewalk café permits, noting that there “may be a conflict regarding the alcoholic beverage service which appears to be licensed for sidewalk service for the wine bar but not specifically for the restaurant.” They also asked that outer boundaries of the restaurant be marked on the sidewalk, as required by Department of Consumer Affair’s sidewalk café regulations.

Then, in Oct. 2015, CB4 reached out to Michael Jones, Deputy Chief Executive Officer at the SLA regarding the restaurant’s advertising of a late-night “Midnight Brunch” featuring a DJ and dancing. Referencing community complaints, CB4 requested the SLA send an inspector, pointing out that their records show the establishment as having a closing time of 12 a.m., seven days a week.

In a Jan. 12, 2016 letter to Il Bastardo owner Robert Malta, CB4 outlined restaurant General Manager Sherif Ibrahim’s December 7, 2015 hearing before the Quality of Life Committee to respond to constituent complaints. They reminded the owners of the existing stipulations, and gave the restaurant 20 days to resolve all violations.

Existing stipulations confirmed the establishment was licensed to serve alcohol to 74 people at a time; CB4 noted that it was operating “at more than double the capacity… 169 verses 74.” CB4 reminded Il Bastardo that their stipulated closing time was midnight, and that amplified music, live bands, and dancing were prohibited.

New stipulations included the agreement to cease all commercial and private events not produced by the restaurants owners or staff (i.e. no outside promoters); and the need to post one “black tie” security guard for every 50 patrons congregating outside and creating a public nuisance, noting, “this problem has been found to be especially serious during Il Bastardo’s weekend brunches, which also generates excessive noise.”

Other new stipulations included mandates to: post at least three security guards outside whenever large crowds congregate; stagger meal reservations; facilitate customers use of taxis; create a waiting area inside the restaurant; and finally, “in an effort to prevent over-inebriation, as per code, Mr. Ibrahim agreed to stop offering ‘unlimited drinks’ on site, and to cease advertising the same.”

By Jan. 22, 2016, Ibrahim notified CB4 that they’d hired an individual to take care of the matters agreed upon, and had met with the 13th Precinct commanding officer and Detective Ray Dorrian about the situation.

Apparently, adding security guards, a waiting area, and cutting off the flow of unlimited drinks has not yet resulted in enough changes to mollify neighbors.

“These issues were brought to their attention, they said they’d work on them, but obviously, that’s not the case. What they’ve done is insufficient,” said Bodine. “They can show how much money they’ve spent on security, on a system to get people in and out better, on a waiting area, on all of that, but at the end of the day if they’re known as a ‘day club’ for drinking, then it’s going to be very difficult to change the quality of their impact on the neighborhood.”

But Gioffre maintained that there was still a way to go forward in a positive fashion, noting how Malta had taken steps to deal with earlier noise complaints. He said that they hope that after all the evidence was in, no findings would be substantiated against Il Bastardo.

“The last thing any establishment’s owner wants to do is be a bad neighbor. He is hoping to sort of work out the differences and come to a happy medium so he can generate business and income, but not infringe upon the neighbors,” said Gioffre. “We want to find a way both can coexist. We have definitely made some concessions, and are willing to make further ones in the best interest of the neighborhood.”

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