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Community divided on Metropolitan Wine Bar

A restaurant applying for a liquor license in the ground-floor space of a building off a quiet stretch of Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg has divided a community frustrated with outdoor noise levels but passionate for sophisticated late-night dining.

On October 14, restaurant owners Stefan Mailvaganam and Dan Lathroum brought their amended liquor license application for their restaurant, Custom Wine Bar, back to Community Board 1 for consideration.

More than 120 residents crammed into the Swinging Sixties Senior Center (211 Ainslie Street, Williamsburg) at the often tense meeting to give testimony over whether the liquor license application for 644 Driggs Avenue should be approved.

Some residents, like Marisa Cardinale, did not see the point of the uproar.

“When I heard about the opposition to a bar, I discovered that it was a restaurant,” said Cardinale, a 26-year resident of Williamsburg.“There are three restaurants on my block and I think they make excellent neighbors. There is no more noise from these restaurants than from the gallery across the street.”

But Williamsburg resident and hip-hop performer Danny Hoch voiced his opposition to the establishment, on the grounds that there are too many bars in the neighborhood.

“Should we believe that you think it’s beneficial to us that we have another bar in our community? We need a library, we need a fish store, we need a dental clinic, we need a pharmacy,” said Hoch.“What you are saying to us is that our home is a playground for drunk people. But it’s OK because they’re white drunk people.So which is it members of the board?Which is it?”

Ultimately, the board approved the application, with 17 voting yes, 14 no, and with 1 abstention, with an amendment to reduce hours as recommended by the owners.

Originally, the board’s Public Safety Committee voted to deny the applicant a license at its September meeting, while the full community board voted to table the decision at its September meeting after the owners promised to remove outdoor table seating and curtail hours of operation to 3 a.m. on weekends and 2 a.m. on weekday nights.

“After the community board meeting last month, we identified the major complaints.We took away our request and we’re going to contain the noise inside,” said Lathroum.“In a year and a half of operation (in their Manhattan restaurant), not once has there been a complaint in Manhattan Community Boards 1, 2 and 3.It speaks volumes for how we conduct our business.”

Public Safety Committee Chair Mieszko Kalita, who voted in favor of the application, reminded the applicants and their supporters that the ultimate decision rests with the State Liquor Authority and that the community board only has an advisory role in the process.

“A lot of time the SLA does not agree with our recommendation.Our vote is not final,” he said.

Meanwhile, Malivaganam and Lathroum expressed bewilderment over the process to secure a liquor license.They say they have lost $20,000 in rent while they’ve waited for the community board, and now the SLA, to make their decision.Rubbing salt on the wound, during the meeting, 19 other bars had their applications approved, including one only a few blocks away from their site.

“A new wine bar just passed it in five seconds. It just sailed through without a ripple. It doesn’t make sense,” said Lathroum. “Why aren’t they fighting the other building?”

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