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New Avenue A Music Venue Shot Down in Bid for Liquor License

The space at 34 Avenue A will be reborn as an experimental music venue under a plan by its new operators.
The space at 34 Avenue A will be reborn as an experimental music venue under a plan by its new operators.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Hedlund

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

EAST VILLAGE  — A planned new music venue on Avenue A was dealt a blow Monday night when the local community board voted narrowly to deny supporting a new liquor license for the proposed performance space.

The intended establishment near the corner of East 3rd Street — the brainchild of local entrepreneur Phil Hartman and concert promoter Todd Patrick — was ultimately deemed a bad fit for the area because of the sheer amount of booze-serving businesses already located in the immediate area and a history of problems with the building's lease owner.

Community Board 3's liquor license committee voted 4 to 3 to deny the application after a handful of advocates on both sides of the issue debated the issue at length in front of a standing-room-only crowd. The vote still has to go before the full community board, which could choose to approve the license, as would the State Liquor Authority, which makes the final decision.

Partners Todd Patrick (l.) and Phil Hartman make their case in front of CB 3's liquor license committee.
Partners Todd Patrick (l.) and Phil Hartman make their case in front of CB 3's liquor license committee.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Hedlund

Hartman, a longtime neighborhood resident and owner of the Two Boots Pizza chain, made his case Monday night for the yet-unnamed venture at 34 Avenue A, where he formerly operated the performance venue Mo Pitkin's.

But a steady stream of nearby residents, including Board 3 district manager Susan Stetzer, successfully urged the board to recommend rejecting the proposal due to the dozens of existing nightlife establishments in the area.

"We just can't deal with one more person, one more taxi," said Stetzer, who lives just down the street from the proposed space. "You have no idea how miserable we are."

While generally not taking issue with the venue's music programming — described by Patrick as "avant-experimentalism" that would be handpicked by a curatorial committee made up of musicians like Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore  — neighbor after neighbor decried the situation created by the 56 active liquor license on Avenue A.

Despite the announcement that acclaimed Brindle Room chef Jeremy Spector would head up the venue's Mexican seafood restaurant on the ground floor, some residents felt the cuisine didn't help set the space apart from others in the area.

"Avenue A has become known as taco town," one neighbor said, citing a handful of Mexican restaurants already located on the stretch. "It's getting frightening."

There was also some debate over whether the space could even operate legally as a music venue under the building code, with Stetzer claiming the Department of Buildings would find it unlawful while Patrick countered that he has already gotten permission from the city for performances due to its preexisting use.

After Mo Pitkin's shuttered, the space's took on a life as Aces and Eights — which was closed last year for not having required permits and was referred to as "stain" on the neighborhood by Hartman — worked against the applicants because the leaseholder of that bar is listed as a principal in the new project.

Committee chairwoman Alexandra Militano noted that the leaseholder Jevan Damadian's involvement in the operation "delegitimizes" the whole venture and led to her voting against the liquor license.

One committee member, former board chairman and bar owner David McWater, did seek to defend Hartman's work in the community, saying nobody "has tried more to save arts in culture" in the neighborhood than him.

Patrick continued on that theme by saying that the project is more about bringing a type of venue back to the East Village that has been washed away by years of gentrification.

"I push forward music that is about the artistry and love of what you're doing over any sort of profit margin," he said, defending himself against statements he made saying that the restaurant would be the venue's economic driver. "I've always been focused on what I believe is good quality art."

However, one resident argued that experimental space is already "well represented" in the area.

"We don't know these guys to define art and culture and tell us what we need," the neighbor said.

Community board 3's full board will vote on the proposal at its next board meeting on Tues., March 22.