The public safety committee of Bronx Community Board 8 voted to deny an application by Barcelona Bites for a cabaret license on Mar. 3.
The special hearing was convened after a small controversy on Nov. 12, when Urbano Estevez, the bar’s owner, applied for a liquor license for his new restaurant, Yokomo. During that night’s meeting, committee member Bob Press mentioned that there was an existing cabaret license for Ibiza, the club that used to exist in the same location as Barcelona Bites.
Estevez, who also owned Ibiza, said that the cabaret license should carry over but Press insisted that the matter be further investigated. As a result, Estevez returned on Mar. 3 to renew the cabaret license under Barcelona Bites’ name.
Several residents of the buildings around Barcelona Bites, located at 220 W. 242nd St., as well as City Councilman Andrew Cohen and New State Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz were present to voice their concerns.
“It’s the same concern that I’ve had in other, similar, applications in the community,” Dinowitz said at the meeting. “Not because of who owns it, or the business itself, but be cause of the location, my concern is having [a cabaret] on a residential street.”
Dinowitz continued to state that if he wouldn’t want a cabaret, and all of the noise associated with it, on his own block, he wouldn’t want it on one of his constituent’s blocks either.
“I can’t imagine living there, when the potential for problems is so great,” he said. “I think it’s a bad idea at that location—I don’ know what a good location is, but it’s not on a block where people live.”
Cohen echoed the assemblyman’s remarks at the podium, saying that he felt it important to be on the record as opposed to the idea of allowing Barcelona Bites to have a cabaret license.
“I’m not going to belabor the point,” he said. “The noise concerns would really undermine the residential character of that block.”
According to the New York State Alcoholic Beverages Control (ABC) Law, a cabaret license specifically refers to businesses “upon whose premises musical entertainment, singing, dancing or other forms of entertainment is permitted.” Estevez said he rarely intends to have live music at Barcelona Bites, but that he wanted to have all the legal paperwork in order in case the situation ever arises.
“I’ve been in business here for 14-years, and in that time I can count the amount of times I’ve had a live band on my hand, it’s not profitable, I don’t do it,” he said. “But if I have a party party, and they rent the bottom floor, and they want to bring live music, I want to be able to offer that legally.”
Residents, however, said that the current noise situation is already too severe for them them to be comfortable adding the additional noise possibilities of a cabaret. Nelson Torres, who lives in the building adjacent to Barcelona Bites, said that he can feel the vibrations of the music through the night.
“The building literally shakes all night and I have to be up early on the weekends,” Torres said to Estevez during the hearing. “When [Estevez] opened Barcelona Bites we thought it was going to be a restaurant but now it’s like a club.”
Estevez assured residents that he has an open door policy and wants to both listen to and rectify any lingering noise issues. After the hearing, Torres, as well as neighbor Alisha Mortise, said that they have tried complaining to to him directly but with little success.
“Manhattan clubs don’t even go through this,” Mortise said. “There’s building codes and regulations, how did this guy start as a bar and the you just turn it into a bar?”
During the hearing, committee member Mary Yamagata said that she cannot understand how the noise problems persist, with the amount of complaints from residents.
“Just turn the volume down, I don’t see how hard that is,” she said. “It perplexes me, we all have a radio and when it’s too loud you just turn the knob down.”
Yamagata’s remarks were echoed by the rest of the committee as six voted to deny the cabaret license. Two members abstained from voting, including Press.
The State Liquor Authority is technically obligated to heed the requests of community boards when making decisions about licensing, but Dart Westphal, an urban planner who lives in Kingsbridge, said that the SLA tends to listen more to boards than they did in the past.
“[CB 8] does have more clout than most. It’s likely that this will serve as a warning for the place to behave better,” Westphal said in an emailed statement. “At some point misbehaving bars do get closed down and this is probably a first shot across the bow.”
Estevez said that he understands the issues that were raised by residents and wants to do more to alleviate noise problems caused by Barcelona Bites.
“We’ve heard the concerns of the community, I’m actually more than willing to try to meet their concerns,” he said after the meeting. “I’m going tot continue trying to relentlessly build communication between the community and my premises.”