By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Visana, the First Avenue speakeasy style cocktail lounge that’s previously drawn the ire of neighbors due to nighttime noise, had the 13th Precinct’s commanding officer seeing red recently after officers issued seven summonses for underage drinking.
Deputy Inspector Brendan Timoney said the 13th Precinct will be taking a more active role with regards to disruptive patrons at Visana after those incidents, which occurred at the end of February.
“We’ve been on top of them lately but that was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Timoney said. “(Visana owner David Jaffee) was crying out in the street saying they didn’t want this to happen but they advertised a party that night. They knew this would happen when they packed the place.”
Jaffee and his partner Ross Rachlin have been at a number of meetings of the 13th Precinct Community Council in the last few months but were not present this Tuesday as Timoney addressed community members.
Area residents, who were at the meeting to find out if progress had been made in keeping the bar under control, praised the police officers who have responded to the scene in dealing with the drunken crowds.
Visana recently failed to get the support of a Community Board 6 committee in its hopes for renewal of its liquor license. The business has an upcoming hearing with the State Liquor Authority regarding charges on noise and license issues.
Neighborhood residents have started an online petition asking the New York State Liquor Authority to deny First Avenue pizzeria/nightclub Visana a renewal of their liquor license. As of T&V’s press time, 30 residents had signed the petition, with 70 more needed to meet the goal of 100 signatures.
UPDATE: When reached for comment yesterday, Jaffee said that he was actually inside the lounge the whole time that crowds were getting rowdy on the street, contradicting Timoney’s account of that night.
“The police came in and told me people were arrested but I didn’t see it,” he said. “They told me they had detained people for fighting but there were no incidents inside or fights inside.”
Jaffee also claimed that the lounge itself didn’t receive a ticket for underage drinking, which can result civil penalties up to $10,000 or from $2,500 to $3,000 for first-time violations, according to the State Liquor Authority.
“That’s a really big violation,” he said. “We’re under such a microscope that if you just have an event where it exceeds capacity, it can be bad.”
Jaffee added that the large crowd was due to the birthday of a patron, who ended up inviting 50 people more than the lounge had anticipated and they had to turn a number of people away. But he said that he didn’t see anything unusual outside and there were no incidents or fights inside the lounge.
Matthew Jacoby, 22, was one of the arrests that night, being charged with disorderly conduct after allegedly refusing to get out of the street and then pushing an officer who was trying to handcuff him.
While Jaffee and his business partner Ross Rachlin are preparing for a hearing at the State Liquor Authority next week, Jaffee said that in hindsight, it might have been best if they had never opened in the First Avenue space.
“Probably one of the biggest mistakes we made was opening up in a residential area,” Jaffee admitted. “We didn’t anticipate it would be this difficult, but you learn from it. That’s part of life.”
Prior to discussing Visana, Timoney mentioned that crime was down slightly for the past month but there have been noticeable increases throughout the precinct in both felony assault and grand larceny.
Eight of the 12 assaults in the last few weeks have arrests attached to them, Timoney said, including a number of domestic disputes and an argument between two coworkers at a restaurant that resulted in one worker attacking the other with a spoon.
Another recent incident included a stabbing at Slate, a bar on West 21st Street, on the last weekend of February. Timoney said that a man got into an argument with a busboy at the bar and ultimately stabbed someone and slashed someone else. A second person was involved, but only one person has been arrested so far.
“We’ve been in constant communication with Slate since this incident,” Timoney said. “We’re keeping an eye on that area because there are a lot of bars on that stretch.”
Grand larceny has increased 7.4 percent in the last month. Theft of unattended items accounts for half of all the grand larceny incidents in the precinct recently and Timoney said that there has been a spike of thefts from gym lockers.
“Use a lock, and use a lock with a key instead of a combination because those can be easily broken into,” he said. “If you leave items in a locker without a lock, you’ll come back and your property will be gone.”
He added that there has also been a spike in bags being stolen from restaurants.
“Some of these are crimes of opportunity,” he said. “A lot of times there is no usage on the credit cards that are stolen but it’s just easier to keep an eye on things and prevent it in the first place.”
Timoney noted that there has also been a drastic spike in identity theft, which he said may be related to tax season.
Also at the meeting, Stuyvesant Town resident Roger LoMenzo accepted a plaque on behalf of his father Joseph, an original Stuyvesant Town resident and police officer at the 13th Precinct who is turning 100 on April 1.
The community council meeting for April will be rescheduled because the presidential primary is the same day as the usual day for the meeting, but an alternative date has not yet been set.