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Cuban Nightspot Gets Green Light to Open in Inwood Space With Violent Past

By Lindsay Armstrong | January 16, 2015 6:19pm | Updated on January 19, 2015 8:55am
 The venue would be at 5060 Broadway, the site of drug activity and violent crime in the past.
Brown Sugar Bar
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INWOOD — The third time’s a charm.

The owner of a new restaurant and bar planned for a controversial Broadway space that has played host to criminal acitvity in past years got the go-ahead from the local community board this week open a new nightspot.

Juan Almonte plans to open a 123-seat Cuban restaurant, tentatively named Brown Sugar Bar, in the space at 5060 Broadway, which has sat vacant since a Chinese restaurant closed there in 2013.

This is the third time in a little more than a year that a new business has been proposed for the site, where previous businesses have experienced everthing from violent crime, including two murders, to unruly crowds and drug activity.

Almonte presented his plan for the bistro, which will close at 2 a.m. each night, to Community Board 12’s licensing committee Wednesday.

In November 2013, the board voted against another application by Maria Rodriguez to open Lumus, a 300-person restaurant and bar that would have featured live music, at the site.

Both the 34th Precinct and Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez opposed that application because of the site’s problematic history.

After her initial application was rejected, Rodriguez registered another business at the same location in April 2014. However, she never applied for a liquor license under the new business name.

Almonte, who also owns El Nuevo Aguila Bar and Restaurant in The Bronx, said he recently bought the business from Rodriguez. Almonte’s brother Santiago is listed as the owner of 5060 Broadway.

Ariel Ferreira, a representative for Almonte and former member of the board's licensing committee, told the board that Almonte wants to focus on the restaurant aspect of the business. He plans to occasionally have live music, including performances by local jazz musicians and DJs for special events. The restaurant will also offer valet parking, Ferreira said.

“This is a seasoned business owner,” Ferreira said of Almonte. “He has another operating license in The Bronx with no SLA violations. This is not somebody who is opening to learn how to run a business.”

The committee noted that neither the 34th Precinct nor Councilman Rodriguez objected to the application.

“It’s very significant that the precinct objected to the last application, but is OK with this one,” said committee chairman Aldemar Diaz.

State Sen. Adriano Espaillat also wrote a letter in support of the business. 

However, many community members who attended the meeting were not convinced.

“That location has been a beacon of very troubling behavior in our community,” said longtime resident Martin Collins.

Before the Chinese restaurant, Passions Lounge occupied 5060 Broadway, shutting down in 2005 due to drug activity and noise complaints at the space, DNAinfo New York previously reported. Before that, a venue called Sugar Shack operated in the space with similar issues. 

Collins also brought fliers that advertised large events at Almonte’s Bronx restaurant.

“This is battles with 10 DJs on a Sunday night,” Collins said “That would not be an advantage to have that at the corner of 215th and Broadway, which is surrounded by hundreds of apartments.”

Almonte insisted that his Inwood venue would have a different vibe, but some residents remained concerned that it would become a de-facto nightclub.

“The problem is when you talk about having 26 cameras, DJs, valet parking and you're open until 2 a.m. on a Sunday… that is not a restaurant,” said David Thom, a member of the Inwood Owner’s Coalition.

The committee voted in favor of Almonte’s application, with the stipulations that he host DJs only once per week, install sound controls to limit noise and never apply for a cabaret license, which allows for dancing at a venue.

The application will go before the full board on Jan. 27.

“We’re going to be a very fine eatery,” Alba Founier, Almonte’s assistant, told DNAinfo after the meeting. “The community will enjoy it, if they give us a chance.”