GOWANUS — Police are trying to shut down a Gowanus biker club where a man was shot to death in 2012 — but locals say the club is a harmless venue that hosts events including baby showers.
The NYPD filed a complaint earlier this month in Brooklyn Supreme Court seeking the closure of God's Only Demons Motorcycle Club on Butler Street off Fourth Avenue, calling it a dangerous "public nuisance" in court filings.
The club was the scene of the 78th Precinct's only homicide of 2012 when a 43-year-old man was shot in the head in front of the club on Oct. 27, according to the city's legal action, which was filed against the club as well as the building owner, an LLC registered to taxi mogul Evgeny Freidman. A spokesman said Freidman owns the property next door to the club, but not the building housing God's Only Demons.
Officers with the Brooklyn Vice Enforcement Division found that the biker den was operating as an "illegal social club" and storing alcohol without a liquor license during a February 2013 inspection, according to the complaint. And in August 2013, a 16-year-old boy passed out drunk after being served alcohol at the club and was rushed to New York Methodist Hospital, according to the filing.
The boy was attending a party hosted by a high school friend, and "alcoholic beverages were being openly and freely given to minors without their ages being questioned," police say in the legal filing.
But a man at God's Only Demons on Tuesday afternoon said the club was anything but a nuisance.
"We're just normal people," said Darryl Baker inside the cigarette-scented clubhouse, where a wood paneled bar was decorated with a framed photo of a nearly nude woman straddling a motorcycle. A few bikes were parked in the front hallway and a video screen on the wall showed surveillance footage from several cameras.
Baker said club members are "all employed" and work in industries such as construction, sanitation and nursing. They take their motorcycles out on "cancer runs" — charity rides for medical research.
Baker said he was under impression that the club could stay open if it made some "safety" upgrades.
Neighbors interviewed after the 2012 shooting said they were "terrified" of the club, which sits behind a padlocked black metal door marked "Members Only" and "Harley Parking Only All Others Will Be Crushed." According to 311 logs, there were six calls complaining of loud talking or music at God's Only Demons during 2013.
But on Tuesday locals told DNAinfo the sinister-sounding name was scariest thing about God's Only Demons.
"You drive by a door that says God's Only Demons and you'd think there's child porn and heroin going on inside, but it's not that. They're good guys just doing their thing," said Justin Walters, who owns Vax Moto, a motorcycle storage service across the street from the club.
"You don’t ever see them revving a bunch of bikes, being lawless, doing wheelies down the street [going] the wrong way," Walters added.
People who live and work in the area said the club provides a service by renting out its space for parties. An employee of a nearby tire shop said he'd never had any run-ins with the bikers, but his friends had hosted birthday parties at the club and his wife attended a baby shower inside God's Only Demons.
"If you can't afford a $1,000 hall on Fifth Avenue, you can go to them," said Nelson Garcia, who's lived in a walk-up building down the street from the club for 42 years. "They're neighborhood guys. The neighborhood knows them and they know the neighborhood."
God's Only Demons moved to Butler Street about three years ago, Garcia said. It's one of three motorcycle clubs in Gowanus. The Bridgerunners have been on Butler Street for more than 20 years, and the 69'ers are headquartered on 15th Street off Second Avenue.
Some speculated that the crackdown on God's Only Demons was related to new residents in the neighborhood. Garcia noted that an industrial building near the club has been rented as loft space. Walters said a biker club might not sit well with residents of the Arias, a luxury high-rise on Fourth Avenue, though a doorman there said he knew of no problems with the club.
"You can’t put up condos across the street from a building that says God's Only Demons on it and expect people not to complain," Walters said. "They try to clean up these neighborhoods. Who's next? Maybe me."