UPPER MANHATTAN — It’s déjà vu all over again.
For the second time in two years, the popular and controversial Inwood restaurant Mamajuana Café has had its liquor license renewed by the State Liquor Authority before Community Board 12 was able to officially weigh in.
Although CB12 discussed the restaurant and lounge’s application for the past month at its economic development committee and voted 28-8 against the application during its general board meeting on Tuesday, the SLA had already approved the license last week.
According to Pamela Palanque-North, chair of CB12, the restaurant owners submitted their renewal application on May 14, more than one week after the economic development committee met in May.
Palanque-North said she would ask the SLA to reconsider its decision considering the tight timeframe.
“The CB12M Resolution…indicates that the membership voted overwhelmingly in favor to not grant a renewal of a liquor license to Mamajuana,” she wrote in an email, adding that “although the application was submitted before the full Board could consider and vote,” the business license does not expire until June 30.
In June 2010, the SLA approved the restaurant’s two-year liquor license renewal without Community Board 12's input a week before CB12 voted against the application.
The board’s economic development committee postponed its vote to accommodate a visit from SLA Chairman Dennis Rosen June 15, but unbeknownst to them the board wasn't aware the SLA moved ahead with approval of the license on June 14.
SLA spokesman William Crowley said that the commissioner’s visit was intended to survey the entire area and was not targeted at Mamajuana and said the application had been approved in keeping with the lack of objections and no documentation of “adverse history or even complaints on the licensee” in 2010.
Palanque-North said she has been aware of a problem with the lag between applications submitted and board approval and said the board plans to create a special committee “that just reviews applications for a license, sidewalk cafe or street closing” in order to deal with the deluge of applications that come before the board each month.
Ideally the committee would issue resolutions directly to the SLA for consideration without going before the full board, except in cases where applications “did not have a unanimous vote.”
For years community residents have attributed much of Dyckman Street’s quality of life problems to the thriving nightlife scene at its many restaurants between Broadway and Payson Avenue.
Mamajuana Café, the first restaurant and lounge to move into the now-popular real estate stretch, has been the focus of much of the community ire, but the owners say community outrage is unfairly targeted at them.
“I see it as the community basing their complaints on problems on the strip, like motorcycles and people on the sidewalk,” said Victor Santos, part owner and general manager at Mamajuana. “It is not us, it's the location.”
Although community concerns continue to be voiced at community meetings and forums, with local residents complaining that the restaurant turns into a nightclub after 11 p.m., elected officials say the owners of Mamajuana Café have improved their operations over the past two years, and have responded quickly to complaints and implementing stronger security.
After a New Jersey man suffered severe brain damage after being allegedly knocked out by an off-duty police officer at the bar Jan. 8, Mamajuana owners reportedly cooperated with efforts to find the suspects charged with the crime, police said.
Police also gave the establishment a vote of confidence, telling the board it has no objections to the license renewal.
Still, the board voted against its economic development committee’s resolution, which was in favor of approving the renewal so long as the owners continued working with the office of Councilman Robert Jackson and the community and observing sidewalk café rules negotiated through the City Council and Department of Consumer Affairs in 2010.
Those rules stipulate that the restaurant’s sidewalk café must be “closed, vacated and broken down” by 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and midnight Friday and Saturday, according to CB12.
Despite the agreement, a DNAinfo.com New York reporter witnessed four tables filled with patrons still dining at 10:42 p.m. on Tuesday night.