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Former City School Teacher Plans to Reopen Troubled Brooklyn Burlesque

By Alan Neuhauser | September 21, 2012 7:52am
The exterior of the former Paris Cabaret and Burlesque at 18 Commerce St., which is slated to become Con Amore Burlesque, landlord Sal Reale said.
The exterior of the former Paris Cabaret and Burlesque at 18 Commerce St., which is slated to become Con Amore Burlesque, landlord Sal Reale said.
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DNAinfo/Alan Neuhauser

RED HOOK — A former city public school teacher is planning to open a "burlesque" nightclub at the former Paris Cabaret and Burlesque on Commerce Street this fall, a nightspot that attracted complaints from neighbors and closed after just six months of operation last year.

As first reported in The Brooklyn Paper, Cynthia Thomas-Dicks, a Department of Education employee and former math teacher, applied last month to obtain a liquor license for Con Amore Cabaret, located at 18 Commerce St., her realtor, Lou Hamdan said. The venue will feature a bar, nightclub and burlesque-style dancing and performances, but no nudity.

Dicks could not be reached for comment.

Brooklyn Community Board 6's Environmental Protection/Permits & Licenses Committee will review the application Monday night and make a recommendation to the State Liquor Authority, which will decide whether to grant the license.

The interior of the former Paris Cabaret and Burlesque at 18 Commerce St., as posted to the nightspot's Tumblr feed.
The interior of the former Paris Cabaret and Burlesque at 18 Commerce St., as posted to the nightspot's Tumblr feed.
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Tumblr/Brooklyn's Paris Cabaret

If Con Amore wins approval from the state, it would become the property's fourth nightspot in 11 years.

"It's just been miserable for me," said landlord Sal Reale, 65, who has owned the property since 1979. Originally the site of an ink distributor, Reale opened its first nightclub Sept. 25, 2001: a blues, R&B and folk venue he ran himself called Red Hook Blue.

"We spent over a year and half preparing the place," Reale recounted. "Sept. 11 happened, and there wasn't much to say after that. It's just been a struggle ever since."

Red Hook Blue closed after just a year, then reopened under new management that fall as The Hook, a music venue that attracted the likes of Styx, Norah Jones and blues legend Pinetop Perkins, Reale said. The place stayed open until 2008, then became a dance club called Hello Brooklyn.

That's when the trouble started.

Hello Brooklyn's managers failed to obtain proper permits for the club, including a license to sell alcohol, said Craig Hammerman, Community Board 6 district manager, and Paul Grudzinski, a Community Affairs detective at the 76th Precinct.

Cops issued several violations against the spot in a single night, Grudzinski recounted, and neighbors complained about noise from the club's thumping music and loud patrons who mingled outside. The managers' partnership fell apart, and Hello Brooklyn shut down in a matter of months.

The property remained vacant until May 2011, when new lessee David Ruggiero opened Paris Cabaret, which he promised would offer "dance, comedy and singing," not "adult entertainment" like strippers and massages, The Brooklyn Paper reported.

Several months later, though, neighbors and the Paper alleged that it was, in fact, a conventional strip joint, replete with stripper poles, lap dances and porn playing on TV.

"It wasn't supposed to be a strip club," Reale said. "When I did find out that it was anything other than a burlesque club, then I started pressuring them."

Paris Cabaret closed in October, but not before nearby residents called police to report shouting and fights outside the club. No violations, however, were filed against the spot, Grudzinski recalled, adding that "maybe once there was a fight outside," but no other physical altercations.

He said the precinct does not plan to send any officers to speak at the community board's licenses committee meeting Monday.

"The only time we get involved is if there's a major issue, or if it's coming up for renewal and we've had problems with the establishment under its present ownership," Grudzinski explained.

Hammerman, meanwhile, said if the committee approves Con Amore's application, it could attach certain stipulations to its recommendation.

"The community board does regularly come up with conditions that they believe will help a business blend into the community in a way where quality of life isn't sacrificed," Hammerman said.

"If they are posting signs so that their patrons are more courteous of their neighbors traveling to and from the establishment, if they are patrolling the front of their business, especially to keep the level of noise under control when people smoke outside, there are certain things they can do to establish the tone," he added.

Reale expressed exasperation with residents' opposition to the project.

"I have three or four people in the neighborhood that are newcomers that are objecting to this thing, and I just can't believe that they can be so consistently a pain in the ass," he said. "They just call the police for no reason."

Still, he offered a personal assurance to those concerned about the new burlesque.

"I can only tell the people that [the new lessees] have been well-versed in what we expect from them, and they wouldn't be going into this if they felt they couldn't abide by it," he said. "Believe me, there would never be anything seedy, because that's not what I want to do. I want it to be part of Brooklyn, something where you go, 'If you're looking for something that's out of the way, that's a little bit funky, try this place.'

"To me,," he added, "it's just like part of the character of Red Hook."