Adam Polaski

Gay Bar Seeking New Location Faces Opposition

Filed By Adam Polaski | August 12, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: gay bars, Greenwich Village, liquor licenses, New York City bar, Pieces, Pieces Bar, State Liquor Authority

PiecesZoom.jpgEric Einstein, the owner of a neighborhood Greenwich Village gay bar, had no idea that moving his establishment to a different location would be so challenging. Einstein owns Pieces, a bar on Christopher Street in New York City, just a few doors down from The Stonewall Inn, and he's been struggling to move down the block for the past seven weeks. The landlords of Einstein's current building, which Pieces has called home since 1993, will be gutting the building in the Spring, so Einstein's forced to relocate. He found a different building on W. 8th St. for the bar, but since he's started preparing for the move, he's faced roadblock after roadblock.

In early July, Einstein's bid to get a liquor license for the new location proved to be a complicated process.

Official protocol demands that bar owners must notify the community board, comprised of residents on the block and surrounding area, about plans to pursue a liquor license. In recent years, however, this "notification" step has devolved into an intense negotiation, where the block association makes demands and the bar owner makes concessions. If an agreement is reached, the community board votes to give support to the bar's bid for the license; if no agreement is reached, the community board often opposes the license.

Getting the Liquor License

It's a two-step process. First, Community Board 2's State Liquor Authority sub-committee, which only deals with liquor licenses, hears from the bar owner about his license bid, and based on this, they make a recommendation to the full board.

At the committee meeting to discuss Einstein's liquor license, members of the community board voiced their concerns about Pieces. Some worried about the noise level, so Einstein agreed to professionally soundproof the new location. Others worried about the street becoming a center for nightlife, so Einstein assured them that Pieces is a small, community bar with a loyal clientele - it's been called, he explained, a "Nerd Bar" because of its quiet environment. Still more worried about the fact that Pieces is a gay bar. Einstein couldn't do anything about that - it's a gay bar, and that shouldn't be a reason for opposition.

Einstein said that some of the committee members revealed an undercurrent of homophobia in their public statements.

"One guy in his late 20s or early 30s was essentially afraid of being heckled when he came home at night in a suit," Einstein told The Bilerico Project. Another woman alleged that if Pieces were allowed their liquor license, the local residents would have to deal with condoms in the street and public sex acts.

Ultimately, the committee opposed the liquor license unless Einstein restricted his hours to 11p.m. on weeknights.

"I'm a bar," Einstein said. "I'm not a restaurant - I'm a bar, and closing at 11 is impossible. I wouldn't be able to make rent, let alone make any money. That was sort of their way of saying they didn't want to deal with me."

The block is currently home to three other bars catering to hetero crowds, and they are required to close at 2 a.m. each night of the week.

The committee passed its oppositional recommendation onto the full board, and after another meeting where Einstein and other community members got to make the case that Pieces is an important local cultural institution, they approved the license, overturning the committee's recommendation by a vote of 33-8. Einstein had acquired the written support of dozens of local community members, including charities like the AIDS Service Center, the Imperial Court, and Bronx Community Pride.

The Lease Failure

Last Monday, still excited about his win from the liquor license debate, Einstein was all set to sign the lease at his W. 8th St. location. But just a few minutes before the time that he agreed to sign with Jane Goldman, she canceled the deal, writing in an email:

We are on hold with this deal. We have received more letters from people who live in the area who are not happy with a bar in the premises, and we do not want to get started off on the wrong foot with our tenants. If there are any other areas in the city, please let me know and I will see what else we have available for you.

While Einstein was dealing with the main community board, it seems, some community members were campaigning against Pieces to the landlord herself.

Picking Up the Pieces

After this most recent roadblock, Einstein said he's not sure what he'll do next.

"It was really a monumental task to get the community board approval - organizing all that - and on top of that, running a bar," Einstein said. "It was basically like having two full-time jobs for the past seven weeks. I need a little break before I decide what's next."

The lease for Pieces extends until the Spring. But after that, they can't stay in the building. The owners of the property have indicated that they don't want any bar there after the remodel.

Einstein sees the challenges that Pieces has faced as having a broader impact on the future of the West Village gar bar culture.

"The saddest part of this is that the Village, which is where the whole gay rights movement started, is sort of being turned straight," Einstein said. "It's not because the gay businesses are leaving - it's because they're being forced out by the residents. The clients are there, and I'm doing good business. But unfortunately, it's becoming harder and harder to maintain where we are now. And it's sad. It's a piece of history."

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Why are we putting up with this? First off, maybe they should sue the landlord for discrimination based on sexual orientation. The community should mobilize and make it very clear to both landlords that they will face protests and opposition to whatever they want to put in those locations if this is not resolved.

Here in San Francisco when we faced the closing of the Eagle over 300 people showed up to a meeting, protests were held at the straight bar that was thinking of taking over the space. In the end, the Eagle closed (though no other business has yet moved in) but at least we fought back and the final chapter has yet to be written. So I challenge LGBT people in New York to show some backbone and don't just accept this without a fight.

As important as marriage equality is, the loss of queer spaces and the harassment of existing gay bars and businesses is just as important in the day to day lives of many in our community. Unfortunately there don't seem to be any organizations that want to take on these issues. Maybe it's time to form some new ones.