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New Chelsea Hotel Gets Liquor License Despite Community Board Denial

By Mathew Katz | August 22, 2011 5:31pm
The rooftop of the Hôtel Americano at 518 W. 27th St.
The rooftop of the Hôtel Americano at 518 W. 27th St.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

CHELSEA — When the boutique Hotel Americano opens next month on West 27th Street, it will host affluent guests and ritzy parties on a rooftop patio and cellar lounge.

But that will come after the hotel's developers and operators have caused major headaches for the local community board, which claimed the developers circumvented it to secure their liquor licenses.

As a result, the license will allow the operation to stay open later than Community Board 4 members had wished — even though the developers promised board members it would close earlier.

The hotel, at 518 W. 27th St., is the first American venture from Grupo Habita, a leader in building boutique hotels in Mexico. When the project's developers began to seek a liquor license in 2009, they approached Community Board 4's Business Licenses and Permits Committee.

"What happened was the developer came in without an attorney," said committee co-chair Paul Seres. "They were very green and didn’t understand the process."

Businesses hoping to get liquor licenses typically stop at the community board first, looking to get a positive recommendation to the State Liquor Authority. Although only advisory, the board often negotiates the conditions of a license with operators: trimming hours here, allowing more seats there.

The authority typically listens to a community board when it says yes to a license — or when it says no.

The board's largest concern was that the hotel only had 56 rooms to go along with its rooftop patio, pool, restaurant and basement lounge. Board members worried that Americano planned to make money off food and drink instead of guests, conjuring images of when nightclubs covered the block just a few years ago.

The committee also asked the hotel to draft a security plan to protect the growing residential neighborhood around it.

"We never heard back from them," said Seres, who is also president of the New York Nightlife Association, at meeting. "So we sent a letter of denial to the SLA."

After that letter reached the liquor authority, Seres said Hôtel Americano's developers bypassed the board and told the SLA they were still in negotiations. The authority then issued the hotel a license without conditions or limits on operating hours, an SLA spokesman confirmed.

"You’re talking about a rooftop pool bar and restaurant patio that they want to go to 4 a.m.?" said Seres. "You have to have your stuff together. [They have] five different areas that would be able to serve liquor."

At the committee meeting last week, representatives from Grupo, as well as Black House Development, which built the hotel, got a lesson in humility as committee members grilled them on the details of their plans.

"I humbly apologize for not following up with your board," said Sean Ludwick of Black House. "It was a procedural error on my part."

A dozen men from the hotel appeared disorganized during the meeting, often yelling, occasionally swearing, and offering the board conflicting numbers for hours and sizes of the hotel's facilities.

"Can we all get on the same page?" Seres shouted partway through the meeting. "Who am I speaking to?"

The hotel's Chicago-based lawyer, Michael Baum, pointed out that the hotel already had its liquor license and wasn't required to be at the meeting.

"We're here to be good neighbors," he said.

After about an hour of often-heated negotiations, the hotel's operators agreed to limit its hours, including a closing time for the rooftop of 10 p.m. during the week and 11 p.m. during the weekend.

Grupo Habita said they planned to abide by those hours, even if they aren't required to by their liquor license.

They will return to the committee in six months to seek approval for extended hours.

"We are thankful to the community board for what we feel was a productive discussion and outcome," said Grupo Habita co-founder Carlos Courturier, who recently moved to Chelsea from Mexico to oversee the hotel, after the meeting.

"We appreciate their support and look forward to working together with them."