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It's as if there's a parallel universe in clubland. On Wednesday, Erick Morillo's uptown baby Pacha had its grand unveiling, with a mob scene of a few hundred people braving ice-cold temperatures to get in.
Inside was just as crowded. Half-naked girls in the cheesy shower stalls aside, Pacha is a Big Club with a Big Attitude. Louie Vega helmed the decks, and if his set was dusty, it also made me nostalgic. Complete with Kevin Aviance watching the geisha go-go girls, the night recalled Twilo's heyday, when eye candy matching the ear candy justified clubs' hefty cover charges. If Pacha were a movie star, she'd be Olivia Newton-John's character in Grease's last scene, wearing tight black satin pants and red high heelsand the cigarette she'd be stomping on would be Crobar, Avalon, and Spirit all at the same time. Splat. There goes the competition.
Hanging at Pacha you'd never know that below 14th Street, the battle between the residents, bars, and police had just been amped up another notch. The weekend of December 2, to hear one witness tell it, Avenue B looked like a zoo. Police trotted up and down the block on horses, a giant police van parked outside Le Souk, and the men in blue set up a checkpoint, carding drivers. One witness counted 16 or so cops between East 3rd and East 2nd. And more L.E.S. bars, including Scenic, Rothko, and Niagara, were visited over the week by precinct police and the nightlife task force (MARCHMulti-Agency Response to City Hotspots).
Community Affairs Officer Mike Perezsaid the Seventh Precinct instigated a new program with the ominous name ALL OUT two weeks ago, aimed at policing bars. Police involuntarily boosted the infamous Dark Room's rep, by closing it (again), and giving it a "violation and vacate order" for a pierced foundation wall. The bar fixed the problem, and had reopened by last Friday. Co-owner Jason Baron quipped: "Those who walk with the night have their home back!"
It was rumored that Tonic got a cabaret violation for its allegedly unlicensed basement, but calls to the club were not returned. Authorities also visited new kid on the block Fat Baby twice on Friday night, citing the venue for overcrowding and improper display of signage. The next night, police came back with the full MARCH squad. Grand prize: a health department violation for ice scoops being inside the ice bin. One club owner said the Seventh Precinct, like the Ninth, has a new commanding officer, Frank Dwyer, who is much tougher on the bars. All this police activity has me hot and bothered, but does anyone know where Peter Braunstein is?
Many bar owners I spoke with (none of whom wanted to be quoted on the record) blamed the recent ruckus on organizations like toomanybars.org. But the visits are based on 311 calls and complaints registered at the police's community precinct meetings, not the newly minted community organization's rabble-rousing.
One of toomanybars's concerned residents is Rebecca Moore, a young musician who frequently plays bars and clubs, and who blames the State Liquor Authority's "rubber stamping" of liquor license applications. Moore says she doesn't want a "police state," but adds, "The raids are effective on some level. The police have to do something. I don't know if we can figure out what to do about the problem, but we never should have allowed it to progress to what it is."
Moore took aim at potshots portraying her fellow activists as old fuddy-duddies, and bristled at suggestions that they should just move elsewhere. "It's obnoxious to say that it's just old farts complaining. It's anti-elderly." Following our talk, Moore was on the way to a long meeting; afterward, she told me, noting the irony, she'd need a drink. At a bar.