Faster than you can say “I’m on the list,” the freewheeling fun granted to the city’s bars for the past few years seems to be over. On November 12, a combination of police, fire, and health and buildings inspectors (the dreaded MARCH—Multi-Agency Response to Community Hotspots) raided eight bars around the East Village, issuing 79 violations to six of them: Babel, Horus, Sutra, the Library, Rififi (Cinema Classics), and Rue B; Remote and Bar None escaped unticketed. Ninth Precinct police also visited No. 1 Chinese on Avenue B and Sophie’s on East 5th Street on November 12, and Scenic on Avenue B on November 19. And, as predicted here, the dreaded cabaret law is back. Rififi was cited for operating as an unlicensed cabaret.
The MARCH squad arrived at the Library at 2 a.m., peak bar time, and stayed for an hour while turning on the lights, turning down the music, carding all the patrons, and issuing 16 tickets. The task force cited the venue for minor offenses such as lacking soap in the soap dispenser, as well as for a more serious problem—overcrowding. Nick Bodor, one of the Library’s business partners, says the task force was “very disruptive to business. They effectively shut us down at 2 a.m.” Because as everyone knows, nothing says “crazy party” like 30 uniformed officers in a bar.
That the low-key Library was raided proves that having an owner (
Dave McWater) who’s also president of Community Board 3 doesn’t shield a drinking establishment from police scrutiny. Says one bar owner: “It’s weird that they were targeted. Maybe they were sending a message to Dave McWater.”
Bodor was just as perplexed, though he says he and McWater don’t believe it’s politically motivated. “We’ve been open eight years,” he says. “We have never had problems with our neighbors. We don’t have a lot of community complaints. It’s a little alarming. We’re not a touristy, noisy bar.”
But Ninth Precinct community affairs officer Jaime Hernandez explains that the watering holes were chosen based on neighborhood grievances—culled from community board meetings, 311 calls, and direct communication with the station. In former city councilwoman Eva Moskowitz’s recently released list of the top 10 nightlife noisemakers based on 311 calls, the Library didn’t make the cut; one spot visited, Sutra, was ranked first.
Down on Ludlow Street, home to Max Fish and the Dark Room, police cars parked on the corner of Stanton are a common sight. One witness told me that last weekend he saw cops filming the street, stopping bar- goers, and asking them questions.
Word of the police action that Saturday night spread fast among club owners. “Everyone who works in bars knows everyone, everyone was text messaging everyone, word was coming from every corner of the neighborhood,” says one of my sources.
But why now? Many of the people I talked with suggested that new Ninth Precinct commanding officer Dennis DeQuatro is instigating the raids. But Hernandez denies this: “Every precinct does it [conducts MARCH raids]. It’s not just done because we want to target bars.” Because it was Thanksgiving week, Fly Life was not able to reach DeQuatro in time for print.
Still, the police are getting unusually aggressive. One East Village bar owner says, “We’ve been getting a strange rash of people coming and asking where to get drugs, and pestering the bartenders.” I smell a narc. Everyone knows you don’t ask the bartender for drugs. You ask the DJ.
Jokes aside, the East Village bar owner made an important point. It’s a two-way street: “This knee-jerk reaction destroys nightlife in New York. We aren’t police. We can’t control people on the street. There needs to be some sort of partnership between police and bar owners.”