Con Artist Collective on Ludlow Loses Bid for Beer-Wine Tavern

Posted on: October 29th, 2015 at 5:11 am by

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Con Artist Party, April 2014

Con Artist celebrated five years at 119 Ludlow Street last spring. What began as a scrappy basement art studio-cum-thrift boutique in 2010 (formerly home to The Cast), eventually morphed into a fully-fledged artist collective – on two floors – with storefront workspace and a membership counting in the hundreds. During this time, the gallery hosted over a hundred shows featuring dozens of artists and their original works.

But owner Brian Shevlin was dealt a blow to his long-term strategy last week when the bid for a beer-wine license was denied by the State Liquor Authority. It had been a two-year quest to gain the privilege.

In the interim, CB3 issued a thumbs-down, and the method of operation evolved significantly. At the October 20 hearing, Con Artist counsel divulged that the room as we knew it was renovated, and agreements with artists’ claim to the space “terminated.” Said artists will no longer paint in the back room onsite. Instead, the whole ground level was combined into a contiguous space, and put into compliance with Health Department regulations for a tavern (e.g. built food prep area).

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This was one of the more interesting cases of late that’s gone before the State. At issue was whether Con Artist considered itself a bar that exhibits art on the walls for profit or a gallery that hosts events with booze. Opposition manifested itself in the LES Dwellers Association – deemed by applicant counsel as “dangerous” – yet SLA chair Vincent Bradley seemed to agree with their arguments. The fear was that if a legit gallery obtained beer-wine, what would stop the myriad other showroom in the area from doing the same? It could create a chain reaction in an area also known for its galleries. A concrete answer never materialized, leading the board to argue that “you can’t have it both ways.”

Shevlin noted that this type of establishment in the neighborhood would help support the local artists he’s worked with over the years. A venue to showcase the art while simultaneously providing a social environment.

That didn’t seem to fly, though.

After several minutes of back-and-forth, the panel deemed this an application for just another bar in Hell Square. Denial followed shortly thereafter, due in large part to the location, ambiguous method of operation, and perceived lack of public benefit. In fact, one of the commissioners even noted that he’s not against the idea just the location chosen. It was quoted that there are 44 licensed establishments in a .1 mile radius. Chairman took it one step further by saying that the area is overrun with bars – “It’s to the point where it’s almost unlivable on certain nights.”

Con Artist will soldier on, nevertheless. You can check out the next event – “Celebrity” – which kickstarts November 4 (Wednesday).

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