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Public Safety & Quality of Life

15 West 55 Street, West 55 Cafe and Restaurant LLC, dba: DV Cafe and Restaurant. Application for a new on-premises liquor license.

WHEREAS, WEST 55 CAFÉ AND RESTAURANT LLC ("Applicant"), has notified Community Board Five of its intention to file for a new on premises liquor license for a café and restaurant (d/b/a "the DV Café and Restaurant") located at 15 West 55th Street, New York, New York (the "Premises"); and

WHEREAS, The Premises has never previously been licensed to serve alcohol; and

WHEREAS, The Premises is located in a residential building containing 9 stories and 31 residential units; and

WHEREAS, The Premises contains approximately 5,010 square feet of floor space on the first and second floors of 15 West 55th Street; and

WHEREAS, The Premises contains an unenclosed terrace on the second floor, directly under the residential units; and

WHEREAS, The Premises is currently used as a retail store, hair salon, and barber shop; and

WHEREAS, The proposed café and restaurant operation would be located in an undivided space within the Premises; and

WHEREAS, The Premises has been the subject of two previous licensing applications, both of which were unanimously denied by CB5 for the reasons described therein (see Attachment #1) one in May of 2016 and the second in October 2016; and

WHEREAS, Both the May and October applications for the Premises were denied by the SLA; and

WHEREAS, After denial of the October application, the operator of the Premises engaged a caterer to obtain a series of caterer's permits for the Premises for "events" three to four each week, allowing the operator to circumvent the licensing process; and

WHEREAS, These events were the source of numerous 311 noise complaints for noise, loud music, parties, etc. (see Attachment #2),

WHEREAS, On October 28, 2016, officers from the Midtown North precinct conducted a visit to the Premises after receiving many community complaints regarding operation of the Premises; and

WHEREAS, The officers observed the serving of alcohol without a permit in place and issued summonses for the unlicensed sale of alcohol, unlicensed bottle club, and unauthorized warehousing of alcohol (see Attachment #3); and

WHEREAS, A report by the investigating officer was submitted to the SLA on November 1, 2016 (see Attachment #4), describing the pattern of "deceit and dishonesty" which occurred during the officer's inspection of the Premises; and

WHEREAS, After review of the police report, the SLA rescinded nine (9) outstanding caterer's permits for the Premises; and

WHEREAS, Notwithstanding the issuance of subpoenas for unauthorized service of alcohol and rescission of the caterer's permits, the Premises continued to be a nuisance as evidenced by the continuing 311 complaints since the issuance of the subpoenas (see Attachment #2); and

WHEREAS, Notwithstanding the issuance of subpoenas for unauthorized service of alcohol and rescission of the caterer's permits, the Premises continued to serve alcohol without a license as evidenced by the attached photographs taken at the Premises at an event on February 15, 2017 (see Attachment #5); and

WHEREAS, The master lessee of the Premises is 15 West 55 Retail LLC, which operates the Premises as "Domenico Vacca Club" or "DV Club" (hereinafter referred to as "DV"); and

WHEREAS, DV's reckless operation of the Premises has caused continual nuisance and disturbance to the community as evidenced by the 311 complaints, letters submitted to CB5, and verbal testimony of residents at the CB5 meetings; and

WHEREAS, Benedict Sciortino ("Sciortino") has been identified as the main principal of the current applicant for the purpose of the present application; and

WHEREAS, Although the previous two applicants were by different (although similarly named) LLCs, Sciortino was identified as a principal of the applicant in each of the two previous applications; and

WHEREAS, Despite Sciortino being the named principal on the liquor license applications, on all three applications a representative of DV is listed as the contact for the applicant; and

WHEREAS, Despite Sciortino being the named principal on the liquor license applications, the application materials reveal that the Premises – including the undivided "restaurant" space – will remain under the control of DV and will continue to bear the DV name; and

WHEREAS, Although Sciortino has other licensed premises and is by all accounts a good operator, it appears that Sciortino is only a straw man or nominee of DV, involved only to legitimize the liquor license applications; and

WHEREAS, Whether or not Sciortino is controlled by DV, the application on its face is unacceptable; and

WHEREAS, During the CB5 committee hearing on the application, the attorney for the applicant asserted that the Operator is no longer pursuing the DV Club concept (an effort to make the application appear to be a departure from the prior operating method); and

WHEREAS, As of March 9, 2017, a "Cocktail Reception" is being advertised on the Internet at "Domenico Vacca Club; 15 West 55th Street" for April 24, 2017 from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m., promoted by Zena NYC, which establishes that the DV Club concept continues to be promoted (see https://www.evensi.us/-fundraising-fashion-show-by-zena-nyc-april-24-2017/199643192 and Attachment #6); and

WHEREAS, As of March 9, 2017, an ad was posted on trulia.com, a leading real estate website, for "The Residences at the DOMENICO VACCA", which further states "The DV Club includes a Bar, a Lounge and a 2,500 sf outdoor space," which further establishes that the DV Club concept continues to be promoted (see https://www.trulia.com/rental/4009118078-15-W-55th-St-8C-New-York-NY-10019 and Attachment #7); and

WHEREAS, Until shortly before the CB5 hearing, a website (www.domenicovaccaclub.com) for the DV Club concept was functional and listed upcoming events and media from past events; our understanding is that the website was taken down on the advice of their counsel, reflecting the reality it was incongruous to have a website with recent updates promoting a concept while at the same time disavowing its existence in a public hearing; and

WHEREAS, On February 15, 2017 (the same day that several members of CB5 attended a "walk-through" of the premises with Domenico Vacca and other principals of the applicant), DV Club hosted a party where liquor was served (see Attachment #8); screenshots from a video produced by Jive, the host (see Attachment #9) are provided as evidence including an open bottle of Cylinder ultra-premium vodka (a sponsor) and several open bottles of beer (Cusqueña, a sponsor), as are photographs taken inside and outside the premises showing a velvet rope, a queue of attendees, and other evidence (see Attachment #5); and

WHEREAS, The Premises has never previously been licensed to serve alcohol; and

WHEREAS, The Premises is not suitable for use as a lounge, restaurant, bar or similar use; and

WHEREAS, The pattern of illegal service of alcohol demonstrates that the Premises cannot be responsibly used for the service of alcohol; and

WHEREAS, The nuisance caused by the Premises to the community over the past few months demonstrates that the Premises cannot be responsibly used for the service of alcohol; and

WHEREAS, Because of the location of the second floor terrace directly beneath the residential units, there is no way for the terrace to be operated without significantly and irreconcilably imposing on the residents directly above the space; and

WHEREAS, A large number of residents appeared at the Committee on Public Safety and Quality of Life hearing to express their concern about this application; and

WHEREAS, Various elected officials, including State Senator Liz Krueger, Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried, Council Member Daniel R. Garodnick, Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer, and Commissioner of the NYC Department of Buildings, Rick D. Chandler, expressed various concerns about the Applicant, the Premises, and this application; and

WHEREAS, Other issues that remain unresolved are (i) the Certificate of Occupancy does not provide for the current or proposed use; (ii) the Premises is the subject of 12 active Environmental Control Board violations, 17 active Department of Buildings violations, and 1 active Building Department complaint for unlawful acts; therefore be it

RESOLVED, Community Board Five recommends denial of the application by WEST 55 CAFÉ AND RESTAURANT LLC for a new on premises liquor license for a café and restaurant located at 15 West 55th Street, New York, New York.

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