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Ever since the first night club set up shop on the first mixed use business/residential street, people have been fighting it out in community board meetings (and more recently, in the comment sections of blogs) about just how numerous and boisterous said night clubs are allowed to be. Sometimes it’s a question of old guard vs. gentrifiers, but often it’s not so simple. The latest front in this fight is LES hotspot The DL, which, at Ludlow and Delancey, sits on the southern perimeter of the one of the city’s worst douche pits, or, as the LES Dwellers community group calls the bar-saturated area, “Hell Square.” According to some vocal members of the community, the place is breaking the rules and operating illegally. According to the people who frequent the club, some people need to refill their Xanax prescriptions. Fight! Fight! Fight!
This dispute gained a decent amount of visibility when local blog Bowery Boogie published an “open letter to the DL from LES Dwellers” detailing the various ways the club has broken the terms of its liquor license. The real eye candy, though, was a series of videos taken at the club’s erstwhile Wednesday night party “Dorian Gray,” one of few events left on the island where Goths mingle with drag queens in true club kid fashion. While nothing very scandalous was happening in any of them, the blog post quickly accrued over 100 comments ranging from “if you don’t like it, move,” to “How about the DL actually complying to rules/regulations that they agreed upon?” Some thought the party was being unfairly targeted. Why did the anonymous videographer choose to film DG’s art-slanting crowd and not the coked out i-bankers or button-down-clad B&T crowd who stumble out of there on various other nights of the week?
“They used our subculture and our event as a visual scapegoat,” says Dorian Gray’s promoter Kayvon Zand when reached by phone. “In reality, whenever there’s been a fight or any kind of issue, it’s never been this party. Why did they decide to tape us, the subculture event? They videotaped us like circus animals without our consent.” He continues: “Obviously they want the club shut down and that’s a separate issue, but they’re trying to use our party as a scapegoat, saying ‘look neighborhood, look community, look any wealthy investors in the building, you don’t want people like this here, so fight for our cause, shut this club down.”
LES Dwellers founder Diem Boyd says there’s a simple explanation for this: timing. While she isn’t willing to speculate on who took the anonymously submitted video, she imagines it was a reaction to the decision handed down by Community Board 3 two days prior to when it was taken, a rare “no vote” resolution that put off a vote until the operator could meet with members of the community. This meeting was scheduled for October 3rd, and the vote was delayed until CB3’s October 7th meeting. The State Liquor Authority, which often (but not always) listens to community board votes, actually renewed The DL’s license even before CB3’s initial vote to deny in September, but could still add stipulations to the license, as well as note violations for the SLA’s records.
“We don’t really care what’s going on in there,” says Boyd. “We don’t care who’s throwing the parties, we don’t care if it’s a hip-hop night or alt night or country music night, that’s not the point. The point is it shouldn’t be occurring in that space. Someone should have told them the party was at an illegal space. This party was just caught in the crossfire.” She said the videos aren’t supposed to be scandalous; their only goal was to prove the DL was, in fact, operating as a nightclub with dancing on multiple floors, DJs, non-service bars, no food for several hours before closing, and all the other elements that make a place “not just a restaurant.”
As for the perception that this struggle is yuppies vs. la vie boheme, Boyd quickly lays that to rest. “I’ve lived in this neighborhood over 20 years,” she says. “I raised my daughter in this neighborhood, I’m the furthest thing from a yuppie. If we were yuppies, we wouldn’t even be fighting this fight. We’d be living in a neighborhood where people weren’t throwing up on our streets and pissing on our doorsteps and screaming in viking hats in the middle of the streets. If we were yuppies, we would not be subject to living in such an area because we’d have the money to get out.”
The DL’s co-owner Paul Seres (pictured above, in orange)—who is also president of the New York Nightlife Association and a member of CB4 in Chelsea—was present at the community meeting October 3rd, telling folks “we’re here to work with you.” He says The DL applied for its license as a “restaurant lounge,” and that LES Dwellers are operating based on old information that only applied to the space’s previous tenant, Ludlow Manor. Despite numerous Yelp reviews to the contrary, he maintains that “we are not a nightclub;” rather, the first floor is a restaurant, the third floor is a private event space, and the second floor is opened up to accommodate overflow.
And what of the suspiciously clubby footage taken at his establishment? “That was the only third party promoter,” he replies. “We fired them two weeks ago as a result of the fact that we were told one thing and they delivered something completely different. There was a discrepancy between how the party was promoted or marketed and how we wanted them to.” He will not say what the discrepancy was, but the timing of this firing does seem somewhat suspicious, as Dorian Gray had been promoting itself in more or less the same way since early August. Is Seres throwing the freaks under the bus to save his own ass?
At the CB3 meeting on Monday night, Seres faced angry LES residents telling tales of his establishment’s frequent dissembling; one young woman presented a printed out stack of evidence that The DL had been violating the terms of its license by hosting open-to-the-public dance parties with DJs, open bars, outside promoters, etc. She brought up the “Everyday People” brunch party as an example. “How many chances is The DL allowed to have?” she asked.
An annoyed-sounding Seres promised to continue working with the community to reduce noise pollution, offering to close the windows after 8 p.m. He admitted to violating the terms of his license by having DJ parties on the bottom floor that were decidedly louder than “ambient,” but said he would not hold them any longer. He admitted to not always serving food until within an hour of closing, but said that was now fixed. He also defended himself a great deal, although some of it seemed purely semantic, like the distinction he drew between “hosts,” which are apparently kosher, and “promoters,” which are not. He blamed reports of unlimited mimosas on an overly imaginative New York Post reporter (wouldn’t be the first time!). He also claimed not to know Dorian Gray had been promoting itself as a dance party until two weeks ago, when he fired them. (His final “outside promoter.”)
The board has no real authority over The DL’s freshly renewed liquor license, but they still voted to note the violations, as well as to compromise with Seres on certain noise-reducing stipulations to be added to the license. They avoided making the futile gesture of a vote to deny.
Pretty much no one came out smelling like a rose; Seres seemed like a bit of a slippery sophist, while the vocal minority comprising the LES Dwellers came off, well, a bit nuts. It bears mentioning that the group recently got its recognition as a block association suspended for communicating with applicants outside of official channels and essentially acting as its own CB. They’re also bizarrely committed to harassing board member Ariel Palitz by videotaping her statements and posting them on YouTube with nasty copy appended. Then again, how crazy would you feel if your rent-controlled apartment of many years was suddenly annexed by the vibrating airspace of a triple-decker clurrrrrb? Excuse me: restaurant lounge.
As one might have suspected from the get-go, Seres will continue to operate his “restaurant lounge” relatively unhampered by his opponents in the LES Dwellers Association, with public scoldings the cost of doing business. As for the “fired” club kid party, Zand says DG will be resurrected at nearby Bowery Electric tonight, October 9th. He is hardly worried about its future; if anything, he seems invigorated by the controversy. “Dorian Gray’s not going out without a fight,” he said. “This isn’t the end, it is just the beginning.”