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Astoria Bikini Bar Faces 'Prejudice' in Liquor License Fight, Lawyer Says

ASTORIA — All they want is to show a little skin.

The owners of a proposed Steinway Street "bikini bar" are vying for a liquor license again after their first application last year drew the wrath of local officials.

The owners of Racks, at 19-26 Steinway St. between 19th and 20th Avenues, have submitted a new application for an on-premise liquor license after withdrawing their original one, which attorney Kerry John Katsorhis said was filed under the wrong category.

He said last year's request was filed under cabaret, which requires establishments to have a capacity for at least 600 patrons).

The new application is set to be reviewed by Community Board 1 in the coming weeks, and Katsorhis said he expects to get a chilly reception once again, though he sees no reason for the "hostility."

"I don't understand what the uproar is," he said, saying he feels the establishment has been judged unfairly and that criticism from local elected officials comes from a "lack of understanding."

"People are prejudiced towards a lot of things, and I hate prejudice in whatever form it comes," Katsorhis said. "The mere fact that a person wants to operate a bikini bar does not mean it's going to be detrimental to the public welfare."

But Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, one of the local elected officials who has been leading the fight against the proposed bar, said its owners appear unwilling to work with the community.

The bar's first request for liquor license approval was not supported by Community Board 1 last fall because the owners refused to sign an affidavit swearing their waitresses would never go topless.

"We have experience with establishments like this throughout our community," Simotas said. "There are establishments that are good neighbors and work with the community board and there are no complaints about, but there are others that think a business owners' rights trumps the rest of the community."

She said the owners' refusal to sign the affidavit last year indicated they were not being honest and straightforward about their intentions for the site.

"They have not, do not, respect the community's wishes, and the lawyer for Racks has let us know that he doesn’t want to agree to anything that would limit his clients' rights," she said.

Katsorhis said the owners plan for Racks to be a bar and restaurant where the waitresses don bikinis, but that it won't be a strip club. But he says they won't sign an affidavit.

"I can't sign away any rights that our client has if they want to change the business," he said, adding that if they ever did decide to make it an "adult entertainment establishment" they would have to meet another set of the state's requirements, including seeking public comment.

He described his clients as two young men, one of which used to own a pool hall called Racks at the same address. That closed a few years ago.

"It's tough making a living," Katsorhis said.

He argues that the bar's location — on a quiet stretch of Steinway Street near a waterfront waste treatment plant — is in a largely commercial area and would not be a disruption to the community.

"It's not as if we're operating illegally," he said. "I wish the politicians would go after the illegal clubs."

But Simotas said there are residential homes "half a block away" from the site.

"One of the concerns I've heard from residents in the surrounding neighborhood is their property values — they think the presence of adult entertainment reduces the marketability of their homes," she said.

Racks is to go before CB1's Consumer Affairs committee April 9, and a vote on its liquor license is likely to take place at the CB1 full board meeting on April 16. The community board's role is only advisory, though the State Liquor Authority takes the recommendations into account.