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Gay Bar Continues To Rile Neighbors As It Seeks OK For Live Piano Music

By Maya Rajamani | December 15, 2016 12:19pm
 Rise bar at 859 Ninth Ave., near West 56th Street.
Rise bar at 859 Ninth Ave., near West 56th Street.
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DNAinfo/Maya Rajamani

HELL’S KITCHEN — Neighbors who claim a Ninth Avenue gay bar is operating as a nightclub are fighting its owners’ quest to add piano nights to a roster that already includes drag shows and karaoke nights.

Rise Bar plans to apply for a liquor license alteration that would secure approval for live piano music, as well as modifications the building’s landlord already made to the venue, the bar's attorney Donald Bernstein told Community Board 4’s Business Licenses and Permits committee on Tuesday.

But residents who live near the bar at 859 Ninth Ave., near West 56th Street, asked the committee to deny the bar’s latest request, saying the bar has refused to be transparent with neighbors.

“When Rise first came and spoke with us [back in 2014]… they represented themselves as a quiet lounge for people,” HK 50/51 Block Association co-chairman Steve Belida said. “This is all spiraling away from what we were all told in the beginning, and what we all voted for.”

When the bar secured CB4’s approval for a 4 a.m. closing time by a slim margin last month, some board members also maintained the bar’s owners never said they would be hosting musical performances at the Ninth Avenue venue.

Bernstein, however, claimed the bar mentioned its plans to host karaoke nights and drag shows from the beginning and argued that “karaoke is not live music.”

“We’re here asking for a sort of retroactive confirmation that karaoke was always in the picture, which we believe it was,” he said. “Live music is someone playing an instrument — it is not someone singing.”

After one attendee read a letter from a tenant still dealing with noise in her apartment, bar owner Theodore Arenas said the bar was continuing to work with her to resolve those issues.

“We basically came here tonight to clear it up, and to be transparent and show you that… we do want to do the right thing,” he said.

HK 50/51 Block Association co-chairman Bob Minor, however, implored the committee not to support the application.

“Don’t compound the 4 a.m. mistake by giving them what they want here, because it’s just ruining our neighborhood, and they’ve got to be stopped, and they’ve got to be made an example of,” Minor said on Tuesday.

Members of the committee expressed some doubts about how to proceed. 

“I guess I’m just wrestling with what’s going on with you and the community,” committee co-chair Frank Holozubiec said to the bar's representatives. “It seems like every time you’re here, there’s this huge outpouring on both sides, and I don’t know why we haven’t been able to move beyond it.”

The committee ultimately voted to approve the application, provided the bar wrap up any and all live performances before 1 a.m. and conduct sound tests in the apartments of residents with complaints.

The bar, which previously won the full board’s approval to apply for a 4 a.m. closing time on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, also agreed to compromise by applying instead for a 2 a.m. closing time on Thursdays.

The application will go before the full board in January.