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'Footloose' in Turtle Bay as Residents Crack Down on Illegal Dancing

By Mary Johnson | January 27, 2012 6:58am
Copia, on East 53rd Street between First and Second avenues, has drawn the ire of local residents for allowing illegal dancing.
Copia, on East 53rd Street between First and Second avenues, has drawn the ire of local residents for allowing illegal dancing.
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TURTLE BAY — Like something straight from the '80s classic "Footloose," a Turtle Bay bar has been at odds with its neighbors over noise and lively crowds — much of which they attribute to illegal dancing going on behind its doors each night.

Because of zoning regulations, the bar Copia on East 53rd Street between First and Second avenues is not allowed to have dancing of any kind, said Steve Dubnoff, vice chair of the Community Board 6 committee that reviews liquor license requests.

Copia is located on a quiet side street in a residential area, and that location makes the bar ineligible for a cabaret license — a required document for a dance club — unless it has been grandfathered into old zoning laws, said Robert Bookman, co-founder of the New York Nightlife Association.

According to Department of Buildings documents, Copia is limited to just eating and drinking — not dancing.

But Copia seemingly flouts that rule, Dubnoff and area residents said. From what they can tell, dancing is a signature element of the Copia experience, and neighbors noted the raucous crowds coming to grind are turning their area into a nightmare.

To stop this, Community Board 6 recently passed a resolution that will ask the State Liquor Authority to revoke any liquor licenses issued for Copia — a rare move from a board fed up with the bar’s bad behavior.

“This isn’t your everyday thing,” Dubnoff said in an interview. “I think this is the first time we’ve ever asked for a license to be revoked.”

The revocation could be lifted pending a few agreements on the part of Copia, according to the resolution. The community board members want all dancing stopped, as well as a sign placed in the window stating that no dancing will be allowed. Additionally, they want the bar's website changed to indicate that dancing is off limits.

It reflects the Kevin Bacon movie "Footloose," which centers on a small town where dancing a rock music has been banned.

The owner of Copia, Michael Hynes, came before Board 6 last month to request approval of a corporate change, as the business was set to be passed on to a new owner, Christopher Falesto.

But the conversation at the meeting quickly turned to dancing.

Hynes and Falesto repeatedly denied the board’s characterization of Copia as a “dance club,” but committee members and several residents who attended the meeting insisted that dancing was allowed and even encouraged at the lounge.

The board sent a representative inside Copia on a Saturday night and reported unmistakable bumping and grinding. On the review site Yelp, Copia is classified as a “dance club,” and several reviewers comment on the space’s dance floor, which has left some feeling a little cramped when trying to get their groove on.

“There’s dancing,” said a resident of 310 E. 53rd Street, the building across the street, at the meeting. “I have been in there [and been] asked to dance. There’s a dance floor.”

At night, the club atmosphere is drawing noisy crowds who vomit in the street and make it almost impossible to sleep on Friday and Saturday nights, two residents said at the meeting. The East Midtown Neighborhood Coalition submitted a letter to the board about the goings-on at Copia, calling the establishment a “detriment to quality of life in the neighborhood.”

Hynes and Falesto were told their request for a corporate change would be accepted, as long as they signed a form pledging to no longer allow dancing inside Copia. The form would then be passed along to the SLA, Dubnoff explained, and would become part of the establishment’s liquor license.

But after a five-minute break to call their attorney, the two men refused, worrying that a ban on dancing would be tough to police at a bar. Signing that agreement would make an impromptu wiggle or hip shake a violation of the terms of their liquor license, they explained.

But the board was unconvinced and agreed to a negative resolution, opposing the change in ownership.

That resolution would have been passed along to the State Liquor Authority, but several days after the meeting, an attorney contacted the Community Board 6 office and said the corporate change request had been withdrawn, Dubnoff said.

That move would leave the existing owners in charge, the same ones the community board has been dealing with during the bar’s previous and equally troublesome incarnations as Busker Brown’s and Metro 53, Dubnoff explained.

So the committee opted to issue a new resolution, one that will call for any liquor licenses issued for Copia to be revoked pending their agreement to the board’s “no dancing” conditions. 

“This has been a constant scourge on BASA [the Community Board 6 committee that reviews liquor license requests],” said Carol Schacter, chair of the committee, before the full board voted in favor of a revocation.

“We really want their license revoked,” she added. “But believe us, it’s in order.”

Dubnoff said he wasn't sure what the SLA would do upon receiving such a resolution.

“I would hope that they would take this seriously and at least investigate the underlying claims that are in the resolution,” he added.

Representatives from Copia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.