East Harlem Fights Liquor License Renewal of Trouble-Plagued Bar
HARLEM — After a rash of complaints, Community Board 11 is fighting the beer and wine license renewal for Seafood Bar El Chicanito, an East Harlem establishment where there have been numerous reports of assault, including patrons slashed and bashed with beer bottles.
The bar, on East 112th Street between Lexington Avenue and Third Avenue, has been shuttered by police for 90 days as part of their nuisance abatement program. It was allegedly operating without licensed security guards and did not have an identification card authenticator as was required by an earlier agreement.
There have been more than 100 noise complaints about the establishment since February 2012, according to city records.
"There was a number of different issues including a long list of 311 noise complaints, tickets given out by the NYPD for having unlicensed guards, arrests for people being attacked with bottles. There were significant incidents," said CB 11 Chairman Matthew Washington.
The owners agreed not to use amplified music and to close at 2 a.m. instead of 4 a.m., but have violated both of those agreements, Washington said.
The board voted overwhelmingly this month to recommend that the establishment's beer and wine license not be renewed by the State Liquor Authority after the commander of the 23rd Precinct spoke about all of the bar's issues. Former Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV advocated for the restaurant at a recent hearing.
"It's supposed to be a restaurant but it's been said to be functioning like a nightclub by neighbors," Washington said.
Although El Chicanito advertised that it delivers takeout, there was no number to call and no menu, area residents said. The bouncers were also armed.
Area residents organized a petition against the restaurant and have expressed concern that it actually functions as a dance hall where men pay women by the dance, a custom popular in Latino immigrant communities around the city.
Gloria Bonilla, who lives next to the restaurant, said she used to see a van loaded with women pull up in front of the bar.
"The women were very young women," said Bonilla. "They were not dressed as waitresses."
Bonilla said she has also seen bar patrons smoking marijuana, urinating and fighting outside the establishment.
"It started with loud music but there's been an escalation in crime that wasn't here before," Bonilla said.
One man who lives in the neighborhood and requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, said he went into the bar to see why there was always such a ruckus.
Inside, there was a woman waiting at each table. Men would approach and pay the woman a few dollars for a dance. Some women were giving the men lap dances, the man said.
"When the business closes there are 20 women coming out and numerous drunk men waiting outside for them," he said. That scenario often leads to arguments and fights.
A representative for the restaurant declined to comment and their lawyer did not return a call for comment.
In July, the owners of El Chicanito, met with representatives of Community Board 11 at the State Liquor Authority office in Harlem. The owner asked for another chance.
But over the next few months, police responded to the restaurant several times to deal with serious issues. In September, someone was slashed with a bottle. Later that month, another person was assaulted with a beer bottle after a dispute about payment for a dance, according to police complaints.
That same month, a man reported that his chain was snatched inside the restaurant. It led to a verbal dispute where someone was whipped with a belt. In October, a man was punched in the eye and another was punched in the nose in separate incidents.
The board's recommendation will now go to the State Liquor Authority, which will decide whether to renew the license.
"It's a big move to take away a license from an establishment. But when there's been this level of engagement and no response, this is what happens," said East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito.
Bonilla said she hopes the license is not renewed so she can sleep at night.
"For almost two years it was impossible to sleep. It was a nightmare," said Bonilla. "But it's been so peaceful since they closed it down."