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Dispute Over Closing Time Could Jeopardize Mamajuana Sidewalk Cafe

By Nigel Chiwaya | March 26, 2014 3:36pm
 Mamajuana Cafe is in danger of losing its sidewalk café after Community Board 12 voted against it Tuesday night.
Mamajuana Cafe is in danger of losing its sidewalk café after Community Board 12 voted against it Tuesday night.
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DNAinfo/Nigel Chiwaya

INWOOD — Mamajuana Cafe is in danger of losing its 4-year-old sidewalk café privileges after an ongoing disagreement between its owner and a local City Councilman prompted the community board to vote against the permit renewal.

Mamajuana, which has served up food and alcohol on its sidewalk since 2010, was voted down in their renewal application on Tuesday after City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez refused to agree with restaurant owner Victor Santos' plan to extend Mamajuana's outdoor café closing time from 10 p.m. to midnight.

"I would shoot myself if I had to live above Mamajuana and they were making noise until midnight," said Mitch Glenn, a member of Community Board 12, which voted against recommending a renewal of the cafe's Department of Consumer Affairs permit Tuesday night.

The sidewalk café, which is currently closed for the winter, operates until 10 p.m. on Sunday-Thursday and until midnight on Friday and Saturday.

Santos said he needs the café to be open in order to afford rising rent and city fees.

"It's really expensive to run a sidewalk café," he said. "Every minute counts. Every juice or sangria I can sell counts."

Rodriguez did not immediately respond to requests for comment. However, according to a representative from his office, Rodriguez is looking to maintain an earlier agreement by former City Councilman Robert Jackson, who was term-limited out of office.

The so-called "Robert Jackson agreements," signed by several restaurants under Jackson's tenure, allowed restaurants to volunarily pledge to close their café at 10 p.m. on weeknights.

But now that Jackson is gone, Santos wants the closing time extended to midnight for all nights. Santos said he only agreed to the 10 p.m. closing time with the understanding that he could revisit the time in 2012. But he said Jackson refused to discuss the subject in 2012, prompting him to sign off on the 10 p.m. closing times in hopes that a new elected official would reconsider in 2014.

"It was never revisited, we were asked to sign the same agreement" in 2012, Santos, a member of Community Board 12, told DNAinfo New York Wednesday. "And now here we are for a third time being asked to sign the same agreement."

"If we're going to look out for the needs of the residents, we should look out for the business owners as well. If you're going on a third agreement, it needs to be fair," Santos added.

Mamajuana has been a target of ire for residents who have complained of noise and rowdy crowds along the Dyckman strip. The restaurant was also the site of a violent 2012 altercation in which a New Jersey man was knocked out by an off-duty police officer and suffered severe brain damage. Police said Santos worked them to find the suspects, and the 34th Precinct did not object to Mamajuana's liquor license renewal later that year. The precinct offered no opinion this time.

Santos has agreed to other stipulations with Rodriguez, including meeting with tenants to discuss concerns, posting a sign outside the restaurant asking patrons to keep noise down, and keeping music at an acceptable level. He says he will meet with Rodriguez to further discuss the closing time before the café application goes before the DCA.

"I have no problems with the Council member, me and him get along great," Santos said. "It's just this one stipulation."