By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Community Board 6 members objected to the re-approval of a liquor license for the problematic First Avenue lounge Visana after owners David Jaffee and Ross Rachlin approached the board again due to a mistake from the State Liquor Authority when their license was originally approved last year.
The two owners, whose new business has been plagued by complaints from neighbors about loud music and rowdy patrons following their opening late last year, appeared before the Business Affairs and Street Activities committee last Thursday night. The appearance was related to the State Liquor Authority’s realization that it was a mistake to issue the license because of the 500 foot rule, which states that if an owner wants to open a bar within 500 feet of three other liquor licenses there needs to be a special hearing to prevent residential areas from being oversaturated by bars.
The community board’s vote is only advisory so the vote did not affect the lounge’s current license or ability to stay open but committee chair Keith Powers said that the objection could negatively affect the business’s standing with the SLA.
Although Jaffee and Rachlin appeared before the committee primarily to re-approve their license because of the issue with the 500 foot rule, committee members at the meeting said that it was a number of compounded issues that factored into their objections, including a number of violations with the SLA they haven’t cleared up yet.
“The 500 foot rule is really the least of your problems,” Powers said. “Some of the other issues are better but there is a list that needs a lot of consideration and attention.”
Committee member Daniel Devine said that he would have trouble approving the proposal because he felt that Jaffee and Rachlin misrepresented their business venture when they originally came before the board.
“You came before us as an upscale, natural health food liquor bar, then it appeared as a club, then as a pizza place and now it turns out there’s unlicensed security, minor health violations and a background which doesn’t appear to be on the up and up,” he said. “I don’t know how we as good neighbors can support this.”
Jaffee responded to the claims that he and Rachlin are “terrible operators” by noting that they have cleaned up their act in recent weeks.
“I don’t think we misrepresented ourselves at all,” he countered. “We never said we were going to be super high end. We haven’t had fights or problems with underage kids. Things have really improved. I don’t know why we’re being judged so harshly for the first two months when in the last two months we have no tickets.”
Powers noted that the stats Jaffee offered didn’t inspire much confidence in the improvements.
“That’s still only 50 percent good,” he said. “Maybe you’re turning the corner but it’s still too early to say.”
Committee member Paige Judge added that once the weather gets warmer, the problems could potentially increase again.
“We’ve had bad weather lately so I wouldn’t say (the last two months) were representative of what it will be like when the weather gets nicer,” she said.
The license was originally approved by the SLA granting the establishment a 3 a.m. closing time, which was ultimately a compromise between the 2 a.m. closing time requested by the BASA committee and the 4 a.m. closing time Jaffee and Rachlin requested.
Judge said that this was another reason that she was reluctant to approve their proposal for a license.
“The 2 a.m. standard closing time is in place because people would say they were great operators, promise us the world and then something like this happens,” she said. “If you get your act together, I would probably vote for you.”
Powers emphasized that the board doesn’t root against bar owners or new businesses in the neighborhood.
“We want to encourage people to open up here and we want small businesses,” he said. “I’m happy that people are looking at that area but it has to be contextual for the neighborhood. If they’re good operators we want them there but there’s an expectation you live up to.”