Box Beaten Back by Boisterous Board Meeting

A concerned citizen raises complaints against The Box.

by Gregory M. White

Sept. 18, 2008

The Box may be cornered into closing, as its liquor license renewal is now in question. Monday’s Community Board 3 State Liquor Committee decided to recommend rejection of renewal of the Lower East Side bar’s license due to ongoing complaints from community members.

The Chrystie Street establishment evoked strong complaint from audience members, many of whom were there to protest the renewal of The Box’s liquor license. With noise violations being the highest 311 complaint in the Lower East Side, with 44.52 calls per 10000 residents in June, many community residents came to the meeting to voice their concerns on The Box and other bars.

Several Chrystie Street residents cited prolonged violations of noise codes from The Box. Those residents who live in an adjoining building voiced the strongest opinions.

“Tenants have a very deep resentment for spending a year and a half with their bull (expletive),” said Charles Cohen owner of the building.

They described a venue where soundproofing was lacking and an overabundance in visitors was forcing them to lose sleep.

“If I’m going to lose sleep I want to be paid for it,” said Ken Rizzo, a contractor.

“I can actually hear the music, I can actually hear their song,” said Chris Henry, an art gallery owner.

Charles Cohen, the owner of the building neighboring The Box, spoke about his disappointment in what the establishment was meant to be and what it had become.

“Sounded like they were going to be a cultural institution,” said Cohen. “They opened it up and it was bedlam, absolute bedlam.”

Councilman David McWater, a board member who owns several bars, questioned Randy Weiner, one of The Box’s owners. McWater called the bar’s existence as a cabaret “a loophole” in laws regarding the difference between a bar and such a venue.

“There is a whole anti-bar movement in this neighborhood because of the illegal cabarets,” said McWater.

He also asked about the complaints from the community and how The Box had sought to deal with them.

Weiner said he implemented soundproofing and had reduced the audio volume thus resulting in fewer complaints. Afterward he said he was skeptical of the complaints of the residents and felt he had taken appropriate measures.

But residents of the neighboring building were not pleased with his response.

Residents felt that by giving The Box a new liquor license without additional restrictions, it would be likely to return to its former ways. Henry who carried a list of 311 complaints he had made on his cell phone, felt that any measure must be legally binding to keep the bar in check.

The committee agreed with residents, unanimously voting for non-renewal. The vote now goes to the full Community Board meeting scheduled for Sept. 23.

The ownership team of The Box includes Simon Hammerstein, son of famous musical director Oscar. The bar is partially organized by a gaggle of celebrities, including Jude Law and Rachel Weisz. It brings performers from around the world to its venue for a mix of what its Web site calls, “the excitement and energy of those concert saloons and burlesque halls.”

Cohen described the atmosphere as one of bottle service and decadent wealth that is, “looking to appeal to celebrity.”

“I think you go in and buy a bottle of Hennessey for $1,200 and that gives you a table,” said Cohen.

The Box has recently been in the tabloid papers and New York Magazine for table dances by celebrity Lindsey Lohan and its appearance on the television show “Gossip Girl.”

Its rich clientele may soon be looking for somewhere else to table dance.

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