How One Chinatown Block is Mobilizing Against the Controversial ‘Le Baron’ Replacement

Posted on: June 7th, 2017 at 5:15 am by

Le Baron has been dead in the water since June 2015, having dipped out for a “summer vacation” that ultimately proved permanent. Two years later, elements of the former ownership are still committed to opening a new nightclub on the spot, but Chinatown residents aren’t having it. So much so, that the Chinatown Residents Block Association (“CBRA”) was organized to do battle.

A year after first approaching Community Board 3 with the probable bait-and-switch, and its subsequent denial – it was initially approved due to grandfathered status, but the applicants refused to agree on the stipulations – the principals behind MJK Foods LLC are at it again. Still at the State Liquor Authority trying for a Japanese “small plates” spot with a large “standing area” in the cellar bar area and 4am closing time. Yet, with a personnel change this time around. Le Baron co-owner (and architect) Ron Castellano is no longer listed on the application, replaced by Jacob Smith, Kenneth Cohen, Kazuo Yoshida, and Max Levai from the problematic Happy Ending (which closed last month).

Chinatown Residents Block Association

CRBA alleges that Le Baron intentionally placed the liquor license in “safekeeping” last year with hopes of keeping 32 Mulberry a continually licensed premises, thereby maintaining grandfathered status. This arrangement would also bypass the 500′ and 200′ rules required of new licenses. That outcome didn’t happen, though. You see, the regulations concerning the “shelving” of liquor licenses were allegedly violated, CRBA claims. Any shelved license cannot remain in safekeeping for more than six months unless the retailer can show good cause (e.g. significant repairs due to fire or natural disaster, etc.). Le Baron apparently hadn’t officially done so until six months after its closure, where it remained until April 2017.

“Chinatown Residents Block Association was more than happy to point this out to the SLA, and to encourage them to take action — which, happily, they eventually did,” member Cor Hazelaar told us in an email.

Indeed, the state ultimately canceled the liquor license back on April 26.

Less than a month later, MJK allegedly circumvented the community by going straight to the SLA for the full liquor license.

CRBA caught wind of the action, though, and demanded that MJK return to Community Board 3 for the process. The opposition argues that this should be treated as a new license altogether. And subject to the necessary CB3 appearance and SLA hearings to prove public benefit, as 32 Mulberry has since lapsed into an unlicensed location. No reliance on prior resolutions or stipulations, actions alleged by the block association, especially since it was a denial.

A new license would also entail adherence to the 200-foot rule, placing the True Light Lutheran Church, an active house of worship, close to the threshold. Enough to warrant an official measurement.

“If the guys from MJK Foods had been willing to sit down with myself and some other members of CRBA and try to work things out, maybe we could have,” Hazelaar quipped regarding the lack of neighborhood outreach. “But the fact that they have done everything possible to avoid neighborhood input and do their deal behind closed doors at the SLA is a very bad sign.”

The fight forges on, with MJK Foods slated for another SLA appearance, likely later this month.

“My neighbors and I have been fighting this for a year but they seem hell-bent on opening this club and we are equally determined to oppose them,” Chinatown activist Karlin Chan tells us. They are fighting for money while we fight for the sanctity of our neighborhood.”

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