HELL'S KITCHEN — Community leaders have asked that a gay bar wanting to open close to two Hell's Kitchen schools be denied a liquor license.
Parents from both P.S. 111 and Sacred Heart of Jesus School turned out to oppose the bar, many with their children in tow. Irma Media, the principal of P.S. 111 who had previously voiced her opposition to the bar, spoke at the meeting.
The bar’s owners and lawyer have said for over a month that the new Boxers location, at 766 10th Ave., would not violate a state statute prohibiting bars from being within 200 feet of a school’s entrance, but for many, their solution of putting a liquor-free taco shop on the side of the building facing Sacred Heart of Jesus School violated the spirit of the law.
"The issue at hand is location," said Stephen Belida, co-chair of the West 50th-51st Street Block association. "No matter how it’s packaged, this location on 10th Avenue is a school yard."
Supporters of the bar, which already has a location in Chelsea, came clad in Boxers hats and t-shirts. They praised its commitment to the community, including hosting many fundraising events for LGBT sports teams and charities.
They also emphasized that the existing Boxers location at 37 W. 20th St. is a tame place.
"To find a place where you can be with other gay guys that are just dudes, it’s hard to find,” said Doug Langley, a Hell's Kitchen business owner. "It’s a great place to go when I want to take a client. It’s just not the kind of bar that people have in their head."
While most opponents said they didn't want any kind of bar in the space, some took issue with Boxers specifically.
"These kids are curious. They'll want to look into this, they're going to go in there," said Nivia Cefello, who has lived in the area for 65 years. "I'm upset they can meet these people. Their mind will be working and they'll be working hard, and that's where the trouble's going to start real bad."
For the first time at public meetings about the bar, some supporters and community board members complained of an undercurrent of homophobia in arguments against the bar.
I am very, very troubled by the use of code words and code phrases," said board member Burt Lazarin, pointing toward Cefello’s comments, among others. “Think about it.”
But Joe Restuccia, the board member who proposed the motion to ask the State Liquor Authority to deny Boxers’ license, said the opposition was purely about its proximity to a school.
“I’m gay,” he said. “I don’t live in Wichita, I live in Hell’s Kitchen on the West Side, and no one gives a damn about anyone being gay.”
The board’s chair, Corey Johnson, stopped the meeting several times to ask both supporters and opponents of the bar to not speculate about the motives of people who got up to speak, particularly after a number of people accused opponents of being homophobic. After the meeting, he insisted that Hell’s Kitchen is a tolerant community.
“A few people saying things is not reflective of this community and this community board,” he said.
Instead of approving a draft letter of support that made it through the CB4 Business Licenses and Permits Committee last month, the board voted to write a letter to the SLA asking them to deny Boxers' liquor license because of its proximity to the two schools.
It also commended the owners of Boxers as good operators who have spent months reaching out to the community.
The community board's role is purely advisory, and the authority does not have to listen to what it recommends.
The letter will ask the SLA to include stipulations that Boxers had agreed to earlier if the agency ends up approving the bar's liquor license. Those include keeping the bar closed during school hours, providing security, and blocking the bar's rooftop patio from view on all sides but 10th Avenue.
In previous cases, the SLA has approved a bar's liquor license even when Community Board 4 asked them to deny it. In those cases, the authority did not provide any stipulations on the license, and some were concerned that the same thing might happen in this case.
“You sort of have to play the odds here,” said board member Seth Weissman. “Are you better off under these circumstances or are you going to take a gamble?”
Regardless, if Boxers’ license application moves forward, the SLA would likely hold another public input session because the proposed location is within 500 feet of three other liquor serving establishments.
Boxers’ co-owners, Robert Hynds and Bob Fluet, said they were not immediately sure how they would proceed, but said they respected the public process, and that they hoped to expand the Boxers franchise no matter what. But after the hours-long meeting, both men had only one thing on their mind.
“It’s been a long week for us,” Fluet said. “We’re very tired.”