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Residents Oppose Soho House's LES Club at Liquor License Hearing

By Serena Solomon | August 9, 2013 8:33am
 The bar at Soho House in the Meatpacking District.
The bar at Soho House in the Meatpacking District.
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Soho House

HARLEM — Lower East Side residents and representatives from Soho House squared off Thursday at the State Liquor Authority offices over the private club's push to open in an area already saturated with bars.

After months of fierce opposition from some local residents and a rejection from Community Board 3, the London-based Soho House has continued to press for a liquor license for the proposed club at 139 Ludlow St.

The five-level club, called Ludlow House, would be open from 7 a.m. to 4 a.m. and offer yoga and spin classes, a library and an open rooftop — along with three bars.

"This area just cannot take anymore of this," said Diem Boyd, 41, who lives near Ludlow House and is a founder of LES Dwellers, a group of residents who are advocating for  fewer bars in the area. "It is just too many people."

Thursday's hearing at the SLA's offices in Harlem was required because there are already at least three bars or restaurants with liquor licenses within 500 feet of Ludlow House.

The administrative law judge who is hearing the case, Raymond Di Luglio, will present his recommendations to the SLA's board, which will make a final decision after another public hearing in the coming months.

Carine Montbertrand, president of the tenant association in a building neighboring Ludlow House, said 16 residents in her building oppose the plan. She worries that sound from DJ's will reverberate through the walls the buildings share — though Soho House has promised soundproofing — and added that a planned rooftop bar and restaurant would be 5 feet from some apartment windows, Montbertrand said.

Marvin Avilez, who has lived on Ludlow Street since 1997, said the club would bring increased car traffic to the neighborhood, as well as delivery trucks to restock the bar and restaurant.

"We are a good example of the pains that happen when you get 51 liquor licenses within 500 feet," he said.

Elected officials including Councilwoman Margaret Chin and State Senator Daniel Squadron also submitted letters opposing Ludlow House's liquor license application.

To receive a liquor license in an area where there are already so many bars, Ludlow House must prove to the SLA that it will bring a public benefit to the community.

"This is unlike any other licensed venue in the area," said the club's lawyer Donald Bernstein. "They [other venues] push alcohol and that is all they do. This is a small part of Ludlow House."

Bernstein said Ludlow House will offer a range of programming including wine tastings, yoga and art exhibits, in line with its mission to provide a place for creative professionals and entrepreneurs to network and collaborate.

Nico Bossi, a Lower East Side resident who described himself as an entrepreneur, said he uses Soho House's Meatpacking District for meetings but would be happy to move his work closer to home.

"If Soho House were to open its doors on Ludlow Street, I could bring my business to the neighborhood," Bossi said.

But Boyd shot back that Ludlow House was unlikely to boost local businesses.

"That's the whole point of Soho House, that you eat and drink there," Boyd said. "The whole thing is contained."