There’s a been a growing buzz about neighborhood opposition to The Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club over the past few weeks. We wrote about the Community Board 6 liquor license committee meeting during which Royal Palms owners Jonanthan Schnapp and Ashley Albert withdrew their application after it became clear that the board was not going to recommend their license. The Wall Street Journal wrote about the club and the uneasy gentrification of Gowanus. And, Gothamist posted a piece suggesting that residents should lay down their petitions and anti-bar posted, pleading, “Neighborhood, don’t ruin this… we’ve waited so long.”
Here’s the thing, though: this is not an all or nothing fight. As Albert rightly points out in the Wall Street Journal, something is going to go in that space. If not The Royal Palms, then what?
The disputed stretch of Union Street is zoned M-1, which means the city allows light manufacturing, warehouses, retail and hotels in these swaths. There’s a casket manufacturer on the street currently, as well as a woodworking shop. If Schnapp and Albert are forced to give up the Royal Palms in its current location, the landlord isn’t going to settle for a business that can pay less rent; rather, a business with deeper pockets, for the legal fees it will take to barrel through the permit process–think hotel chain, big box retailer–will likely move in.
The Royal Palms folks have met with neighborhood representatives four times now. They’ve recalculated their business plan to accommodate a smaller maximum occupancy, drawn up soundproofing plans and agreed to delay the opening of the roof deck for six month to prove that they will be noise control mavens, and to then return to the community board for approval for a separate permit for a deck bar.
What more could you ask for from potential neighbors?
Withdrawing their application at the CB6 meeting was a further sign of good faith. While having community board approval is a feather in the cap of an application for a liquor license, ultimately, the State Liquor Authority is the body that grants licenses, not community boards. Being zoned M-1 and, as is the case for The Royal Palms, a significant distance from any schools, houses of worship or other places that sell alcohol, makes it very likely that the SLA will grant the license. The state after all, collects taxes on liquor sales. Schnapp and Albert know this–they withdrew the application because don’t just want to muscle through, they want to be a real part of the neighborhood, not a divisive force.
Schnapp has worked with us here at BB on a number of events–he has DJ’d parties we’ve thrown at The Bell House and spoke at our storytelling night at Dekalb Market a few months ago. Before the CB6 meeting I called him up to ask him about the opposition and he said, “You know, I really like the neighborhood, I like that they’re passionate about where they live. I just really believe we can address their concerns.” He went on to tell me that he wanted everyone to know that they would NOT be like Brooklyn Bowl, would not be shiny new music venue-artisan fried chicken joint-bowling alley, hipster palace.
And that may be his mistake–defining his club against a bowling alley.
There may be some bowling alleys in dry counties the South or Utah that don’t serve beer, but I’ve never been to one of them. But you don’t associate them with binge drinking, vomit and bad behavior. Sure, Brooklyn Bowl is the epitome of only-in-Williamsburg, Brooklyn as a parody of itself culture. But go to Melody Lanes in Sunset Park or 34th Avenue Lanes in Jackson Heights, both of which are open until 3am, or 4am on the weekends; both of which serve cheap pitchers of beer, and you’ll find bowlers across a wide New York spectrum. They’re true third spaces–not home, not work–a purely social spot. When their Gowanus neighbors look at the Royal Palms all they see is BAR BAR BAR and all they think is drunk twentysomethings, yelling outside their windows and puking on their doorsteps. Instead, they should think: bowling alley, but with biscuits and tangs, not balls and pins.