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Stylist Hopes to Bring Sober Karaoke to the Boozy Lower East Side

By Allegra Hobbs | March 14, 2017 5:12pm
 Karen Elgai hopes to open her half-sober karaoke bar at 87 Ludlow St. in the fall.
Karen Elgai hopes to open her half-sober karaoke bar at 87 Ludlow St. in the fall.
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Instagram/Mini Rex NYC

LOWER EAST SIDE — A sober fashion stylist hopes to open a half-dry karaoke bar where non-drinkers can have a space to let loose without the lure of alcohol, though a local advisory board has voted against the concept because it isn't entirely booze-free.

Liquor-free karaoke joint Juicebox Heroes, slated to open in the fall at 87 Ludlow St., would be connected to a regular booze-serving bar called Mini Rex, said principal Karin Elgai, allowing sober patrons to sing their hearts out without facing a fully stocked bar, while their drinking buddies can help themselves to beer and cocktails across the hall.

"I don't have so much of a problem being in the same room as drinks, but for some people it's too much of a temptation," said Elgai, noting nights out with her fellow teetotalers in the past had been cut short because karaoke joints are drowning in booze.

"I do get frustrated when my friends who are sober are having a hard time," she said. "It's hard for them to be in a room with a full wall of liquor looking back at them."

The conjoined venues would have separate entrances, while sober patrons and drinking patrons would receive different hand stamps. While alcoholic beverages could be carried into the sober space, they would use different glassware to avoid mishaps, said Elgai. 

The staff on the sober side would be strictly teetotal, said Elgai, and would be trained under an initiative to reduce sexual violence in nightlife venues.

Elgai had initially planned to open the spot in Chelsea, but the local community board denied a recommendation for a liquor license because it was on a residential street. Though the board had pledged to support the same bar on an avenue, said Elgai, her team hadn't been able to lock down an ideal location and turned their sights to the Lower East Side.

But Community Board 3's State Liquor Authority subcommittee on Monday also shot down the plan, ultimately deciding the community benefit offered by the sober half wouldn't outweigh the potential risks of the imbibing half, which would require a liquor license for the entire premise.

Neighborhood activist Diem Boyd noted the venue would fall within the already bar-heavy area known as Hell Square — bordered by was Houston, Delancey, Allen and Essex streets — which she said was "completely out of control."

"Right now, I don't know what's going on in the neighborhood, but it's completely and utterly chaotic and unsafe," Boyd, who is part of the LES Dwellers activist group, said. "I just don't think we need another license."

Boyd also argued the space had been saddled with violations from both the Department of Buildings and the State Liquor Authority from former occupant Leftfield that still had not been resolved. 

But a handful of locals were in support of the plan, including one board member who voted in support of the license.

"I do feel like there is a benefit to this," said Carol Kostik. "I do feel like there is something to be said for having a nightlife destination for people who can't drink for whatever reason."

Elgai, who would oversee the bar with fellow proprietor Edouard Gave, said the concept had garnered "amazing support" in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. The operators also presented 105 petition signatures from neighbors supporting the bar, though the board expressed concern that many of the signatures didn't include apartment numbers. 

Elgai said her team plans to square away violations pinned to the space then pitch the concept before the State Liquor Authority, which will ultimately determine whether they get a license to serve booze.

If all goes according to plan, said Elgai, the bar will hopefully be up and running by September 2017.


Coming to the LES in 2017. • #minirexnyc #minirexkaraoke #karaokebar #karaoke #nyc #les #lowereastside #rocknroll #2017

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