Greenhouse’s ‘bizarre’ idea to win community support? Happy hour

Downtown Express file photo Greenhouse nightclub.

Downtown Express file photo
Greenhouse nightclub.

BY SERGEI KLEBNIKOV   |  After closing for “rebranding,” violence-plagued nightspot Greenhouse will continue with its attempts to reopen, this time reportedly with a “new concept.”

The Varick St. nightclub has had a troubled history. In late April, the club was forced to shut down after its liquor license expired. A renewal application was filed with the State Liquor Authority, which after several months has yet to reach a decision. 

Separately, Greenhouse has also applied to the city Department of Consumer Affairs for a cabaret license, which is needed to allow patron dancing at the club.

At a Community Board 2 S.L.A. Committee meeting last month, Greenhouse representatives surprised everyone with a presentation on their reopening plans that opponents described as “bizarre.” The discussion focused on the club’s application for a cabaret license, for which C.B. 2’s role — as usual — would be to give an advisory approval or denial.

Speaking for Greenhouse were the club’s lawyer, Monte Albers de Leon, and Eric Biberman, who described himself as the club’s new special events manager. They said that the club plans “a completely different method of operation” in order to win community support. 

The two representatives explained that the club wanted to open at 4 p.m. (instead of 10 p.m.), and have a happy hour, serve dinner and become a place where local residents could enjoy hanging out. In addition to those additional early-evening hours, Greenhouse would remain a nightclub from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., they said.

However, their application to D.C.A. for a cabaret license ran into opposition from local residents and neighborhood associations who want the club closed for good. The C.B. 2 committee advised against the application, telling the Greenhouse reps that they would need to clarify details about the club’s new model or else they would have to withdraw.

According to Sylvia Beam, president of the Vandam St. Block Association,  de Leon told the C.B. 2 committee that the nightclub was waiting for papers to get signed, and “couldn’t disclose anything at this point.” Beam also noted that the club was illegally operating without a cabaret license, since its previous one expired two years ago.

“Besides the new hours, we haven’t seen anything concrete,” said Richard Blodgett, who lives near the club, which is at Varick and Charlton Sts. He added that Greenhouse has repeatedly made excuses that there are “new principles involved,” despite refusing to reveal additional details. “They need to show us what is going to change.” 

Greenhouse withdrew its cabaret-license application to D.C.A., but reportedly plans on re-filing. There is another C.B. 2 committee meeting at which it can provide further information scheduled in late July.

The application is “sitting in limbo,” explained Blodgett, but he thinks that “clearly they will re-file.”

The S.L.A. has yet to reach a decision on Greenhouse’s application to renew its liquor license. However, Blodgett and other locals suspect that the prolonged decision period means the S.L.A. will most likely renew the license.

Greenhouse is currently owned by Larry Hughes, a former basketball player with the Knicks, and Hirokuni Sai, a Japanese businessman. According to new manager Biberman, Hughes and Sai should not be held responsible for the club’s many problems, since they are hands-off owners. 

The two owners are never present for any of the hearings and are “passive investors who don’t get involved,” according to Blodgett. Several people present at last month’s meeting requested but were reportedly denied the e-mail addresses and contact information of the two owners.

Biberman said that the prior management should be held accountable for the club’s many problems in recent years, and that they have been fired. However, this is a story that neighbors have heard repeatedly from Greenhouse — that is, blame everything on prior management.

Opposition continues against the club in the wake of the two applications. Neighbors have been expressing opposition at C.B. 2 meetings, as well as starting letter campaigns to Governor Andrew Cuomo and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. 

Even the Hudson Square business improvement district, Hudson Square Connection, has condemned the nightclub. Not only is it unusual for a BID to oppose a local business, but in this case, one located in a property owned by one of the BID’s own board members. 

In addition, the Trump Soho condo-hotel, on Spring St., wrote a strongly worded letter to the S.L.A. in opposition to Greenhouse’s liquor-license renewal application.

Greenhouse’s only comment for this article was a prepared statement from their attorney, de Leon.

“The corporation is currently working with the community and is looking forward to providing its neighbors a level of service they can be proud of,” he said.

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