HELL’S KITCHEN — A controversial proposal to put a gay sports bar in a building across from a school and abutting a playground passed an important hurdle on Tuesday night.
At a long-awaited, standing-room-only meeting of Community Board 4’s Business Licenses and Permits Committee, board members gave the initial okay to Boxers HK, the new bar that would be located at 776 10th Ave.
Boxers’ owners delayed the meeting for months in order to do more outreach to local residents and convince them that they would be a positive addition to the community.
“The fact that children walk by a closed bar on the way to school is a fact of life in Manhattan,” the bar’s attorney, Donald Bernstein, told committee members.
The Hell’s Kitchen bar would be the second location of Boxers NYC, which is at 37 W. 20th street. Owners describe it as a ‘gay-oriented’ sports bar where all are welcome.
Bernstein immediately addressed the committee’s main concern — the bar’s proximity to the schools. He said that Boxers’ measurements put the main entrance to PS 111 at 237 feet from the entrance to the bar.
“The entrances that are used by the public are more than 200 feet away,” he said.
The city has a statute on file that bans any liquor-serving establishment from being within 200 feet of a school or place of worship.
The bar also plans on dividing the building, placing a liquor-free taco shop on the side that faces 52nd Street. That would make Boxers exempt from the 200-foot rule with regards to Sacred Heart of Jesus School, since the rule only applies to a school on the same street or avenue as a bar.
The Hell’s Kitchen location will feature a rooftop patio, though it will only open to Tenth Avenue.
With the partition, Bernstein said the bar would legally be located on Tenth Avenue and not be on the same street as the Catholic School,
“Boxers is on Tenth Avenue. The school is on 52nd Street. We’re not on the corner,” said Bernstein.
But a handful of residents opposed to the plan were unconvinced.
“It’s on an elementary school’s schoolyard,” said Leslie Nipko, who lives nearby on 50th Street. “I don’t believe that the spirit of the [statute] is to have a bar on the schoolyard.”
Throughout the two-hour-long discussion of the bar’s liquor license, owners stressed their Chelsea bar’s lack of rowdiness and their commitment to community service.
“What you find is people are comfortable bringing their sister, their brother, their mom, their relatives, all to the bar,” said Boxers co-owner Rob Hynds.
Supporters of the proposed bar outnumbered opponents by roughly two-to-one, though many came from outside of the neighborhood. Still, a number of patrons of the Chelsea bar who live in Hell’s Kitchen showed up in support.
“I have had friends meet me at the Boxers down on 20th Street and they can’t find it,” said Steve Weinstein, who lives on 50th Street. “It’s too quiet.”
Several leaders of LGBT sports leagues and charities also came to sing the bar’s praises, discussing multiple fundraising events the bar has hosted, and the way it helps foster sports in the gay community.
“With all the gay sports leagues that exist, the most important thing is camaraderie,” said Jeff Kagan, director of the New York City Gay Hockey Association.
“That’s after the games. That’s at the bar, over a beer.”
Despite the many who came to support the bar, most opponents said though they liked the concept of the Boxers, it was just the location they had a problem with.
“Your bar sounds great,” said Jeff Robins, a member of the West 50th-51st Street Block Association.
“But combining alcohol with sports on a schoolyard with young kids is like giving them a piece of candy and slapping them in the face when they come to get it. It’s just wrong man. It’s really, really wrong.”
The Business Licenses and Permits Committee voted 9-3 in favor of drafting a letter recommending the New York State Liquor Authority grant Boxers a liquor license. The letter has no binding power, but the authority tends to listen to community boards when they recommend against a license.
That letter will be voted on at the full Community Board 4 meeting on October 4. Opponents of the bar said they plan to re-group and argue their cause again at that meeting.