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Community Board Denies Liquor License for Webster Hall Team's New Bar

By Lisha Arino | August 18, 2015 1:15pm
 Community Board 3 denied a liquor license for a new Chinatown bar on Mulberry Street owned by the team that operates Webster Hall.
Community Board 3 denied a liquor license for a new Chinatown bar on Mulberry Street owned by the team that operates Webster Hall.
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EAST VILLAGE — A new bar backed by a team that runs Webster Hall failed to win Community Board 3’s support for a liquor license for its new bar and restaurant in Chinatown at a Monday night meeting.

CB3’s SLA committee sided with residents opposing a liquor license for the Mul-Bay Cocktail Lounge, at 69 Mulberry St., and voted unanimously against the establishment, saying the owners did not do enough community outreach and that they're skeptical of the owners' “food-forward” pitch of the concept.

Mul-Bay co-owner Kaelin Ballinger, who does marketing for Webster Hall, told the committee the establishment would be a “strictly food-driven” space with a takeout window that would appeal to Chinatown residents as well as visitors.

The owners planned to serve a limited, nine-item “street food & dim sum style menu” inside the 18-table space on the corner of the Mulberry and Bayard streets, which was formerly a meat market, according to a questionnaire filed with the community board, Bowery Boogie first reported.

“We’re going to have unique food that’s going to be special for that area,” Ballinger said during the meeting.

But nearly a dozen Chinatown residents expressed concerns about the new bar. Opponents worried the establishment would end up abandoning its menu and serving alcohol only, increasing the number of noisy and disruptive patrons that already spill out of other nearby bars, they said.

“We don’t need another hipster cocktail lounge,” said lifelong Chinatown resident Henry Chang, 64.

Residents also questioned the owners’ interest in catering to the community, pointing out that the SLA notice it posted on its storefront had not been translated into Chinese.

Residents were also upset that the owners decided to incorporate the name of a Chinese-American World War II hero into the name of bar’s original name, Kimlau Garden, which is also the name of the LLC the owners set up to open the establishment.

“I am deeply offended by the name Kimlau being associated with the bar,” said a man who described himself as a third-generation Chinatown resident. “It shows… tremendous disrespect to my community to have an alcohol establishment associated with a WWII veteran who was a contemporary of my dad in the air force.”

Ballinger defended the concept, saying that Mul-Bay would be focused on food, not liquor. The menu  was intentionally limited to create a “tight-knit curated menu where every item is excellent” and served quickly, he said.

“We want to be the type of place that they write about in Eater and The New York Times and have people travel from around to come here and play,” he said.

Ballinger also said the bar’s original name and the LLC were not meant to be offensive; it was simply named after Kimlau Square, where he lives. Once he heard the original name did not sit well with residents, he changed it to Mul-Bay, he said.

About 150 residents and businesses signed a petition supporting Mul-Bay’s liquor licensing, he added. But when pressed by the committee, Ballinger acknowledged that he did not have a translator with him nor provided a Chinese-language version of the petition while he was collecting signatures.

“For you to come into Chinatown, which is a very cohesive neighborhood…[to] not do outreach, not to talk to any of these people, or made agreements or anything that does not sit well with me at all,” said committee member Andrew Chase. “That is a poor way to go into a neighborhood.”

Ultimately, the committee voted to ask the State Liquor Authority to deny Mul-Bay’s application. The full board will vote on the matter during its next meeting in September, although the vote will be advisory as the SLA has the final say in liquor license applications.