EditorialDancing with the pessimists
Mediation could strike right note for Lola
The saga of Lola a soul-food restaurant struggling to survive on Watts St. in Soho has dragged on for four years. Pitting neighbors against the restaurants owners, the battle has been heated and, at times, downright nasty.
The Soho Alliance sued to stop the place from getting a liquor license. During the drawn-out court case, a liquor license previously issued to the restaurant has since been revoked. Next week, Lola will again go before a State Supreme Court judge, hoping the judge will reconsider her recent decision to order their liquor license rescinded. However, the judge has already ruled that the entire license application should be heard anew by the S.L.A. Lola will also seek the right to appeal before the Appellate Division.
But by choosing to fight on in court, Lola risks losing its liquor license altogether.
Initially, residents circulated a flier warning Lola would cause diminishing property values, increased traffic, more dirt and more crime. Fearing the worst, Lolas owners felt the opposition was at least partly racially motivated. But it seems to us the resistance was more about quality of life in a neighborhood become chronically oversaturated with nightlife businesses.
Today, the main issue is a side yard space where Lolas owners, Gayle and Tom Patrick-Odeen, had hoped to have 60 outdoor seats. From the outset, residential neighbors in the adjacent seven-unit building were up in arms, fearing their quality of life would be ruined by the outdoor seating.
Meanwhile, the Patrick-Odeens have promised theyll close the place by 1 a.m. every night, except for New Years. Neighbors also were anxious about live music. But Lolas owners have taken several good steps to limit the noise level outside the restaurant during performances.
Currently, due to the ongoing dispute, Lola is barred from offering live R&B and soul music, and cant even host its famed gospel brunch. Their business is only about 30 percent of what it would be with live music, the owners say.
Six months ago, Lolas owners and the Soho Alliance almost signed a settlement; Lola would have gotten their liquor license and live music, in return for agreeing to a permanent injunction on use of the side yard for anything more than parking a few cars. But negotiations fell apart after State Liquor Authority inspectors visited the club and found violations. The Patrick-Odeens felt the Alliance had acted in bad faith and the fight continued.
Barry Mallin, the Alliances lawyer, told us last week, however, that the complaints prompting the inspections were filed months in advance, and that only the S.L.A. knows when the visits will occur. When we relayed that explanation to Gayle Patrick-Odeen, she seemed to soften her position, and said shed be open to mediation.
Indeed, a professional mediator, not Downtown Express, should be arbitrating this situation.
Lola is a high-end establishment that will offer quality soul, R&B and gospel music. This is a classy place that many in the neighborhood will enjoy. Yet, its also clear that neighbors quality of life is not negotiable.
The two sides might have to meet halfway. Perhaps some use of the yard during the day? We leave that, hopefully, up to mediation. But we feel confident this dispute can be worked out, and that sweet music will someday play at Lola for all to enjoy.