Volume 18 • Issue 24 | Oct. 28 - Nov. 3, 2005

Downtown Express photo by Gary He

Pianos on Ludlow St.

Neighbors sing different tunes to Pianos

By Ellen Keohane

At 11 on Friday night, about 30 people lingered outside Pianos, a three-story bar-club-restaurant in the Lower East Side. On the sidewalk, smokers exhaled into the cool fall air. Others talked loudly into their cell phones. One clearly intoxicated young woman let out a high-pitched squeal before running into the arms of a friend she had been waiting for. Drivers, lined up along Ludlow and Stanton Sts., honked their horns as people jumped in and out of waiting taxis.

“It sounds like a football stadium,” said Patrick Walsh, who lives at 101 Stanton St. with his wife and 10-month-old baby. The building, which includes 15 apartments, is directly across the street from Pianos at 158 Ludlow St. The only way Walsh, a 46-year-old high school English teacher, can fall sleep is by keeping his windows shut and the air conditioner on all night. Even then, the noise still wakes him up.

When talking about Pianos, Walsh’s voice rises in anger. “I loathe them so much,” he said. “I have walked over and threatened to kill them. I was crazed.” And he’s not apologizing for it.

Walsh has called 311 and the 7th Precinct and complained to Community Board 3, but nothing has helped, he said. He is also on the steering committee of LOCO, a local community group fighting bar proliferation in the East Village and Lower East Side. The group will co-host a “Town Hall” forum and speak-out to discuss the growing bar problem at the Angel Orensanz Foundation Center on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

In August, 16 people, including 12 residents from Walsh’s building, signed a letter asking for an investigation into the approval process that resulted in granting a liquor license to Pianos, which opened in 2002, and for the removal of David McWater from C.B. 3. McWater, chairperson of C.B. 3, owns several bars in the East Village and is former vice president of the New York Nightlife Association.

However, McWater agrees that there needs to be a limit to the number of bars in the area, and he said he has been trying to intelligently deal with the problem.

The letter was sent to Borough President C. Virginia Fields, with copies to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver as well as Councilmembers Alan Gerson and Margarita Lopez, among others.

In the letter, the L.E.S. residents charge that Pianos’ owners misrepresented their business by indicating on their application that it would be a bar/restaurant with live music and a jukebox. In reality, Pianos has been a full-fledged nightclub from day one, Walsh said.

“A lot of places say they’re going to be something, and then they become something else,” said Alexandra Militano, chairperson of C.B. 3’s State Liquor Authority Committee. A business could start out as a restaurant with live music or a D.J. and then metamorphose into a club — or some businesses simply lie on their applications. “We’re not an investigative body. I can’t do a background check on everything,” Militano said.

Even if C.B. 3 had voted against Pianos’ application or license, there is no guarantee that the State Liquor Authority would follow the board’s request. “The community board cannot revoke a license. All we can do is suggest to the liquor authority to revoke it,” McWater said.

Either way, the documents that may or may not shed some light on C.B. 3’s decision to recommend approval of Pianos’ liquor license application have been lost.

Not all local residents have a problem with noise. David Berman, 34, a cinematographer who lives next door to Pianos, visits the bar two to three times a week and is now friends with most of the staff and managers. “It’s actually easier to get a cab outside my building since people are being dropped off in this area,” he said.

Inside Pianos on Friday night, people squeezed up against the bar to order drinks. A band played in the back room. In the upstairs lounge, a D.J. played Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl.” A couple of people danced, while others sipped their drinks and attempted to have a conversation over the music. A wooden sign in the hallway leading to the basement stated “Our Kitchen Open ‘Till 1 a.m.,” but no one in Pianos was eating.

Downstairs, on the first floor, Amy Appleson, a 27-year-old museum curator, hung out with a couple of friends. Appleson, who lives two blocks away on Orchard St., feels that the crowds outside of Pianos — as well as other bars — make the neighborhood safer. “I feel safe coming home late at night, there’s always a lot of people around,” she said.

Pianos (the space used to be a piano shop) has never had a noise violation, said Greg Durham, a spokesperson for the business. Because Pianos is the largest business on the block, it’s an easy target, he said. “Patrick Walsh and a handful of residents at 101 Stanton St. wouldn’t be satisfied with anything short of Pianos closing down,” he said.

Pianos hired security guards to monitor the sidewalk outside, but the bar can’t stop people from standing there, Durham said. Pianos’ general manager and business owners have also tried to address residents’ concerns at various C.B. 3 meetings last year, he said.

Regardless, some L.E.S. residents say they are still not getting enough sleep and have contemplated moving. “I’m getting driven out of my home,” said David Mecionis, a 38-year-old business consultant, who has lived at 101 Stanton St. with his wife for the past five years.
Pianos is not the only bar on the block, but it’s the worst offender, Mecionis said. “There’s no end of noise outside,” he said. “Somehow Pianos

attracts and promotes this element—people who are vastly inconsiderate. They really must think no one lives here.” In contrast, Mecionis said he has never had a problem with nearby Arlene’s Grocery at 95 Stanton St., which also hosts live bands. “Their clientele has it in mind to behave better,” he said.

“It’s like Spring Break every night. It’s crazy. Drunk people, lots of vomit, piss, cop cars, honking horns, traffic jams, cigarettes. My doorway’s a bathroom. I don’t sleep,” said Tim Haring, 37, an engineer who also lives at 101 Stanton St. When Haring first moved to the Lower East Side 15 years ago, the neighborhood was a little dingy, but nice and calm, he said. Now, it’s insane, he said.

The smoking laws have made the situation worse, said Ursula, a 38-year-old yoga instructor who lives in the same building with her husband and 6-year-old son. At times, Ursula has counted as many as 50 people on the sidewalk outside of Pianos. “I’m happy when it’s a rainy night. Then they’re not out there,” she said.

“It’s become an unlivable situation,” Walsh said. “If we were animals, the A.S.P.C.A. would have closed this place down.”


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