Last night Jonathan Schnapp and Ashley Albert appeared before Community Board 6′s liquor license committee, hoping the group would approve their application for a license for The Royal Palms, the shuffleboard club they’re in the process of opening at 514 Union Street (between Nevins and 3rd Avenue) in Gowanus. After about an hour of questions from the committee and statements, both for and against the club, from the community, the board did the weird thing where they first voted to see who would approve the application (only two members). Not having yet rejected the application (they just didn’t approve it) the Royal Palms crew had the chance to withdraw, and pledge to come back next month with a new proposal, addressing some of the concerns voiced at the meeting.
Here’s what went down:
Basically, there’s a core group of families who have lived on the block, pretty much right across from proposed Royal Palms space, for decades. They own their buildings and don’t want a 500-person capacity bar, and all the attendant noise, vomit and bother on their block. They brought a petition signed by more than 100 people who live 500 feet or less from the club, who are anti-Palms as well.
Schnapp and Albert, who have met with these neighbors several times to address their concerns, spoke at length about the compromises they are willing to make to open the Royal Palms. These include: Designing the interior with a self-contained courtyard for smokers so they don’t stand on the street, soundproofing the building, hiring extra security for the exterior, waiting until they’ve been open six months to apply for approval to develop the roof and serve alcohol there, and closing at 2am instead of 4am.
Many people, including those opposed, professed their love for shuffleboard, calling the game gentle and describing the calming whooosh and click of the biscuit and tang. No seriously. One board member went into a whole reverie about listening to people play shuffleboard at a YMCA club in the Adirondacks during her youth (she was also one of the two board members who came out pro-Palms). This prompted me to imagine Dirty Dancing remade as a shuffleboard drama.
The anti-Palms folk had two main concerns: noise and how patrons would behave after leaving the club. They mentioned fearing the following scenarios: sleepless nights from the noise pollution, having to clean vomit off their front stoops, having the benches in front of their homes used for joint rolling and their trees used as urinals. They also strongly felt that a business that would bring a few hundred people a night to the club would disturb the social fabric of their community. Interestingly, a number of people predicted that the pressure the soon-to-open Barclays Center would put on the local police precinct would make Royal Palms patrons impossible to control.
An owner of Building on Bond spoke at length about how when they were seeking community board (a different district) approval for a liquor license, the neighborhood raised similar concerns, and now everything is totally cool and “98 percent” of people who had been against his business are now regulars who have thanked him for making the area safer and better.
Now, the liquor license committee of a community board does not grant liquor licenses. They make a recommendation to the community board as a whole, which then makes a recommendation which goes into the application the bar submits to the State Liquor Authority, which then grants, or doesn’t, the license. Yes, really, that’s the process. It is not a requirement that a community board recommend the license for the SLA to grant one–it’s not like a social security card at the New York DMV.
Committee members suggested that the size of the bar, a 500-person maximum capacity, might not be a good fit for the neighborhood, and suggested that Schnapp and Albert explore the area around The Bell House, which they saw as much more suitable. One member mentioned reading a review for a bar they had reviewed that the writer called “raucous” and feeling “ashamed of us” for giving it the greenlight. The committee also pointed out that neither Schnapp nor Albert had ever owned or run a bar of any size before and that this was not confidence inspiring.
The meeting stayed civil, with the anti-Palms folk freely admitting that they like Schnapp and Albert and respected the amount of work they’ve done to try to compromise, but concluded that they just don’t want a venue for 500 that serves alcohol on their block.
The Royal Palms team withdrew their application, with the intention of hiring an experienced general manager, perhaps reducing the capacity to 300 and doing more neighborhood outreach. So, the scene will likely replay itself again in September.
To my mind, the unspoken question here is: Obviously the landlord of 514 Union wants that space rented–if not The Royal Palms, then what?