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Boxers Bar Likely to Move Entrance to Skirt SLA Rule

By Mathew Katz | November 29, 2011 7:53pm

HARLEM — Boxers is getting creative — again.

The controversial gay sports bar hoping to open a location in Hell's Kitchen may move its entrance in order to avoid a State Liquor Authority rule.

According to the SLA, any establishment applying for a liquor license within 500 feet of three or more other licensed establishments must prove that granting its license would be in the public interest. 

At a so-called '500-foot hearing' on Tuesday — which may prove to have not been neccessary — a lawyer for Boxers HK said that bar, which would open in what is now an empty, derelict building at 766 10th Ave., may move its entrance further north, so it would no longer be within 500 feet of Druids, a bar at 736 10th Ave.

If that happens, the bar would no longer legally be within 500 feet of three others bars, and under SLA guidelines the license must be approved unless the authority finds good cause not to issue it.

"The building that will include the licensed premises is going to be renovated," said Donald Bernstein, the bar's lawyer. "It is very possible that as we revisit those plans, the door may end up being more than 500 feet from Druids."

Bernstein said that new plans and a new measurement should be completed by the end of the week, and that if the bar's entrance changes, Boxers will amend its license forms to show that it is not be a '500-foot' application, and thus, will not have to prove that opening the bar will benefit the public.

This isn't the first time the proposed bar has gotten creative with its planning to avoid an SLA rule. The building is within 200 feet of Sacred Heart of Jesus School, at 456 W. 52nd St. The authority currently prohibits a bar from opening within 200 feet of a school on the same street.

Owners Bob Fluet and Robert Hynds currently plan to divide the building up, so that Boxers faces 10th Avenue, and build a separate, alcohol-free taco shop on the West 52nd Street side — so that Boxers would be exempt from the so-called 200-foot rule.

Boxers argued that because it does not violate the 200-foot rule, its proximity to the school cannot be a reason to deny them a license.

Opponents of the bar argued that the design violates the spirit — if not the letter — of the rule.

Those same opponents brought up another school — P.S. 111 — at the Tuesday's hearing, presided over by Administrative Law Judge Raymond Di Luglio.

The building that Boxers wants to open in abuts P.S. 111's playground, and dozens of Hell's Kitchen residents — many who had taken time off of work — showed up at the hearing to argue that a bar doesn't belong next to a schoolyard. It was that reason that Community Board 4 voted to ask the SLA to deny the license in October.

"We believe that though they are renovating a vacant building and turning it into a profitable business that would provide an economic benefit to the area, the close proximity to the neighboring schools and a schoolyard clearly negates any such economic benefit and is therefore not in the public interest," said Jenna Chrisphonte, the board's assistant district manager.

In response, Boxers' co-owner Bob Fluet argued that the mixed-used nature of Hell's Kitchen means that many children live above bars and pass them on their way to school.

"If I lived right next to [a bar], I would prefer it be right by my kid's school as opposed to right next to my house," he said. "The reality is, [that when] every one of these children who live in Hell's Kitchen go home, 90 percent of them are probably closer to a liquor establishment where they live than we are to the school entrances."

Representatives from Boxers argued that it would provide several community benefits: they'll be resuscitating the corner of West 52nd Street and 10th Avenue, adding lights and security, as well as providing much-needed space for charitable events put on by dozens of the city's gay sports leagues.

"There is a real public benefit in having this dark corner turned into a well-lit populated corner with security cameras and security guards," Bernstein said.

One Boxers supporter claimed that he had been approached by prostitutes at the corner on multiple nights, but numerous residents disputed Bernstein's characterization of the corner as a seedy, dangerous place.

"It's not dangerous. The area is well-lit. The area is on a schoolyard — how dangerous can a schoolyard be?," said Steve Belida, co-chair of the Hell's Kitchen 50th-51st Street Block Association. "We walk by there at night. It's safe."

Belida also showed the the judge two gay-oriented magazines he said he took from the front of the Boxers location on West 20th Street, both of which featured half-naked men, which he claimed children would be able to see and access. Both magazines were filed with the judge.

After hours of testimony, Judge Di Luglio declared that he had gathered more than enough information and said he planned on putting together a memo to the full State Liquor Authority board, which will make the final decision on Boxers' license.

According to Di Luglio, the possibility of the bar not triggering the 500-foot rule would likely delay that memo, and the final decision on the bar's license may not happen until early 2012.