The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Inwood Community at Odds Over Mamajuana Liquor License Renewal

By Carla Zanoni | June 9, 2010 2:43pm | Updated on June 10, 2010 8:19pm

By Carla Zanoni

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

INWOOD — On a two-block stretch of Dyckman Street, between Broadway and Payson Avenue, local residents and business owners are drawing lines in the sand.

On one side, the owner and supporters of Mamajuana restaurant, a popular eating and entertainment establishment, say the party atmosphere frequently found on the sidewalk is not their fault.

On the other side, some community residents complain they are kept awake until the early morning because Mamajuana cannot control its patrons that spill out onto the sidewalk and street. 

At jeopardy is the restaurant’s liquor license, which came up for renewal at a Community Board 12 economic development committee meeting last week. At least 75 people — community members and employees of the restaurant — showed up to support the renewal. Approximately five community residents, who live on or near Dyckman Street, turned out against.

Despite the large community turnout for the meeting, the community board tabled the vote until the board can see the outcome of several high profile meetings scheduled with elected officials, city and state agencies and the Inwood and Washington Heights community in the coming weeks.

Maggie Clarke, 56, lives near Mamajuana and has been in Inwood since 1979. She called the restaurant an “attractive nuisance,” that draws crowds of people from outside of the community to the “party atmosphere on Dyckman Street” through radio and social networking advertising.  

“There is definitely a degeneration of the neighborhood,” she said after submitting two videos she had recorded outside of Mamajuana late at night on two occasions.

Mamajuana owner Victor Osorio, 40, who first lived in Inwood when he moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic when he was 17 years old, said that the video submission was a positive step for his restaurant. Osorio now lives in New Jersey.

“It showed what is really going on in the street,” he said. “Most of the things are motorcycles and cars driving with loud music playing, the gas station with crowds and people parked in the street. There is nothing abnormal at Mamajuana, just a line of people waiting to be seated.”

Fernando Mateo, a spokesperson for Mamajuana and several restaurants on the western stretch of Dyckman, said Mamajuana has been a good business for the community and chalked up problems to a lack of understanding from small business owners about acceptable business practices. 

“A lot of the time it’s a matter of culture, OK?” he said. “Mamajuana brought to Upper Manhattan what never existed there. That block was drug infested for many, many years. They brought in good jobs, good business opportunities, and you know what, they brought in sidewalk cafes to a neighborhood where they never existed.”

During the CB12 meeting last week, Captain Jose Navarro said the 34th Precinct could not support the restaurant’s renewal application during the community board meeting.   

“Mamajuana is a victim of its own success,” he said. “You are not doing enough to police your own corner.”

But owner Osorio, 40, said he believes the problems on Dyckman Street are an enforcement issue and not his sole responsibility.

“The police and other entities should be responsible for patrolling the area,” he said, noting that his restaurant has not received any summons and has frequently been tested by several city agencies for noise complaints.

Osorio said has recently instituted several steps at the restaurant to reduce the problem. He said he recently installed double doors to insulate indoor noise after midnight and hired two security people to prevent crowds from congregating outside the café and stop double parking outside the restaurant. He also said he is working with owners of the gas station in front of the restaurant to prevent crowds from forming there as well.

“And we’re still open to suggestions,” he said. “People need to stop looking at Mamajuana as the problem. We want to be part of the solution.”

In response to resident complaints and lack of support for the liquor license renewal from the 34th police precinct and Assemblyman Denny Farrell’s office, the State Liquor Authority plans to tour the area on Thursday afternoon to see the amount of establishments serving alcohol and their proximity to a residential community.

The 34th precinct will hold three meetings on quality of life issues as well.

The first will be with “problem small businesses,” which includes Mamajuana and several other bars and restaurants. The second will be held with the owners of all 133 restaurants, bars and lounges in the precinct. And the third will bring together business owners and community residents on June 23. The location of the meeting has not yet been announced.

The CB12 economic development committee said it would vote on the liquor license renewal after the meetings in order to base the vote on their outcome. The community board serves an advisory role. The SLA has final say on liquor licenses.

During last week’s meeting, community board member Zead Ramadan said that he believed it was the board’s responsibility to find a way where the community, elected officials and small business owners could find an agreeable way to coexist.

“The metaphor I like to use is that Mamajuana is a wild horse and we as a board need to put a lasso around it to control it, not kill it,” he said.

People congregate on motorcycles across the street from Mamajuana late at night. Owner Victor Osorio says he has implemented new methods to curb the noise on the street outside of his restaurant.
People congregate on motorcycles across the street from Mamajuana late at night. Owner Victor Osorio says he has implemented new methods to curb the noise on the street outside of his restaurant.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/ Carla Zanoni