L.E.S. bars and a little trip down memory lane

There will be blood: Fights are par for the course in Hell Square. One donnybrook there a few summers ago involving bargoers at Stanton and Ludlow Sts. left at least three men injured. One man had already been taken away in an ambulance when this bloody pair were photographed waiting to get medical attention. Photo by Clayton Patterson

BY CLAYTON PATTERSON | In 1992, there was a push to start the Lower East Side BID (Business Improvement District).

In the 1980s, Orchard St. business was booming. Sion Misrahi was doing very well with two stores and growing. Then came the 1987 economic crash, which almost wiped him out. Depressed, he laid low for a couple of years, until Sheldon Silver, our assemblyman, pushed him to start the L.E.S. BID.  Elsa and I were against the BID. It meant higher taxes for us, and only Orchard St. benefited. We started to collect signatures of people who opposed the BID.  One place we went was to the Ludlow St. office of local multi-building landlord Mark Glass. Glass agreed, saying the BID would only cost him money. He said he would collect signatures. Never happened: Turns out his loyalty was to Sion and Silver. The L.E.S. BID was formed in 1992. Sion Misrahi today has his own L.E.S. real estate company.

Later, Glass distinguished himself; working with one of his notorious drug-dealing tenants, he came up with a scheme to kill one of his tenants. It turned out, though, that his confidant was facing a serious drug charge. By ratting out Glass, the dealer was able to snag a get-out-of-jail-free card. Glass did 11 years.

In recent years, William Rapfogel, a lifelong friend of Silver’s, was arrested for stealing money from the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, a charity he headed. He went to prison, was able to work the system, sent to a soft cell. After a little time, he was placed in a halfway house, and was home in time to see Silver arrested and found guilty for his own corruption related to the misuse of his power and political office.

As the ’90s moved along, in my area we began to see this explosion of bars. How could this be? Urban planners know a neighborhood needs only so many bars. To regulate the number of liquor licenses in a residential area, a system of rules and laws was supposed to prevented this kind of takeover.

This was the beginning of Hell Square. Marcia Lemmon, became an anti-bar watchdog. She was also an active leader on the Seventh Precinct Community Council. I attended Community Council meetings with her.

I live across from P.S. 20, an elementary school, so I was surprised to learn a new nightclub on the corner of my block, at Essex and E. Houston Sts., was opening with a full liquor license. This was the period when we witnessed all the different kind of tricks used to open a bar. The club across from the school made a deal not to open during school hours — rightly so, since it was a nightclub — and to use only the Houston St. entrance to access the club.

Another trick that got boring pretty fast was all the new restaurants that turned into bars after they opened. I can still hear BID leader Misrahi’s remark, in his support for a liquor license for a so-called restaurant: “While I am waiting to be seated, I should be able to order a scotch.”

The year is 1998 — the club on the end of my block was out of control. There were shootings, stabbings, full-on street brawls, strippers, as well as running an illegal bottle service. No question, they had broken just about every State Liquor Authority regulation, which normally would lead to loss of their license.  Nope. I asked Captain Cooper at a Precinct Community Council meeting what special privileges this club had.  And it was then, I learned, as he looked at me and said in a loud stern voice, “Clayton you do not understand. You live in an entertainment zone.”

Nice trick. And it was soon after this, because of asking questions at the Community Council meeting, Marcia and I were banned from attending any more meetings. Shlomo Hagler then was a law clerk for Judge Shulman, a Community Council member and a part of the vote to ban us from the meetings. now, Hagler now is a Manhattan Supreme Court justice.

One problem with the idea of an “entertainment zone” is all that our politicians, real estate developers and community board leaders could come up with, in terms of entertainment, was bars and liquor licenses.  The bars could pay a high rent, and eventually most of our local theaters and art and entertainment places were pushed out, along with most of the small businesses, as well as many residential tenants. Our entertainment is streets filled with drunken kids with the occasional SantaCon thrown in.

Fast-forward to today. Yes, we still have a saturation of bars. The weekend is filled with drunken kids partying till 4 a.m. closing time, and then, often, the more serious fun begins. Beyond there being too many bars, the drinkers tend to be young people who cannot hold their alcohol; the bars cannot control the drunks, and many of the drunks cannot control themselves, vomiting, urinating, fighting, screaming, breaking things, getting arrested, stealing. On the other hand, if you look at the full liquor-license music club Mercury Lounge — mostly an older crowd, busy — I never hear of problems associated with this establishment.

The fight continues to find ways to solve the problems associated with the oversaturation of liquor licenses. In my area, the latest group leading the fight is the Lower East Side Dwellers, led by Diem Boyd and Sara Romanoski. The Dwellers have had to fight with the community board, the politicians, the real estate people and the bar owners. Most recently, a lawsuit against the Dwellers by Ludlow bar NO FUN, thankfully, was defeated.

L.E.S. Dwellers may have an unexpected ally in their struggle — the people who run the new luxury hotels and private clubs and tenants in luxury apartments.

Take just one block, Ludlow St. between Houston and Stanton Sts. First, imagine the cost to build two zone-busting multistory luxury hotels, and the 23-story The Ludlow luxury apartments. It’s not cheap to live or visit there. I am starting to hear complaints from people in the luxury apartments and visitors staying at the hotels. Then I was surprised the Dwellers’ meeting was held in the Hotel Indigo. Well, only sort of surprised.

Imagine paying more than $400 a night to stay in a hotel. You come outside at night and there is a full-on drunken brawl filling the street. I asked the doorman at the Indigo about this, and he stated this is a regular occurrence. Well, Misrahi may get his scotch before being seated at the expensive restaurant, but which restaurants have survived? Are any of the famous chefs still here? When hotel guests step out into the morning sun, if they walk south on Ludlow, they have to hope the vomit and fresh urine smell is washed away. If you stay at the Plaza Hotel, the outside environment fits with the taste of the guest. And for those seeking the old L.E.S. they have heard about, it is all but gone.

The Dwellers were able to get Julie Menin, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, or MOME, and Carla Hoke-Miller, MOME’s director of theater and strategic partnerships, to attend a Dwellers meeting — the “Mayor’s Office of Nightlife Community Forum,” on April 24, at the Hotel Indigo. It turns out, besides the loss of our quality of life, tourism is down.

I believe the game is about to change. Just as greed, corruption and power created the out-of-control drunken mess, it seems that power and money will help bring an end to this.

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