June 9, 2023
Mayor Adams floats barring state Liquor Authority from NYC amid clash over embattled Brooklyn venue’s license

Mayor Adams floats barring state Liquor Authority from NYC amid clash over embattled Brooklyn venue’s license

Mayor Adams all but called for the state Liquor Authority to be blacklisted from operating in the city Wednesday following revelations that his team privately went to bat for a Brooklyn club that’s under fire from the state agency over drug use on its premises.

The authority is responsible for awarding booze licenses to restaurants, bars and venues across New York State.

But Adams told reporters in a Wednesday morning news conference that it would make more sense for a city government agency to shoulder that responsibility in the five boroughs.

“I’m hoping that eventually we’ll get to the day that the state SLA is handled on a city level,” Adams said, using an acronym for the authority. “I don’t think people outside the city should be making the requirements.”

A crowd gathered for a show at Avant Gardner in Brooklyn in December.

Asked about Adams’ proposal, state Liquor Authority spokesman Josh Heller said his agency has no plan to wind down in the Big Apple.

“The SLA will continue to ensure the industry is regulated in a fair and consistent manner by working with our partners in local law enforcement to keep the businesses we regulate and the communities where they operate safe,” Heller said.

Adams floated the licensing overhaul in response to a question from the Daily News about a Gothamist report that revealed members of his administration, including chief adviser Ingrid Lewis-Martin, last year intervened on behalf of the owners of Williamsburg club Avant Gardner in a dispute they’re in with the SLA.

According to SLA records, more than 1,600 people have been treated at the venue for drug- and alcohol-poisoning symptoms since 2018, and at least 88 of them were taken to hospitals. Three people who attended separate Avant Gardner concerts have died from ecstasy overdoses since 2017, the records show.

Concerned about the drug use, the Liquor Authority recently placed Avant Gardner under a monitorship that the club, which has a capacity of about 6,000, has been responsible for funding.

But records obtained by Gothamist show Avant Gardner co-owner Juergen Bildstein has taken issue with the monitorship — and pleaded his case during an unusual meeting he secured last summer with Lewis-Martin, other Adams administration officials and Kathryn Garcia, a top adviser to Gov. Hochul who oversees the Liquor Authority.

In the meet, Bildstein claimed the authority was “harassing” his venue and sought support from the city and state officials for ending the monitorship early, according to the records.

“We are hopeful that under this governor businesses will be treated fairly by SLA,” Lewis-Martin reportedly wrote in an email to Garcia after their meeting, with Bildstein and others looped in.

Mayor Eric Adams

At Wednesday’s press conference, Adams defended Lewis-Martin’s involvement and suggested his administration would’ve done the same for any business seeking assistance.

“We are a business-friendly administration,” he said. “Local businesses hire local. It is part of improving our economy. … So if someone comes to an office because they need assistance, we are going to give them the legal assistance that they need.”

He also said it’s wrong to “blame a particular business” for drug overdoses on their premises “as long as they’re not neglectful.”

“We have a drug problem in this country, and we need to address that drug problem,” he said.

Avant Gardner’s ties to Adams’ inner circle extend beyond last summer’s sitdown.

Frank Carone, Adams’ longtime confidant who recently stepped down as his chief of staff to run his reelection campaign, used to be Avant Gardner’s attorney, as first reported by The News in 2021.

Carone told Gothamist he had nothing to do with last summer’s meeting between Bildstein and Lewis-Martin.

A few weeks after the meeting, Bildstein fired the monitor overseeing his club in apparent violation of a settlement with the SLA. The authority forced Bildstein to put a new monitor in place, though that did not happen until the winter, allowing the club to operate without one during the busy summer months.

Adams did not specify which city agency he believes would be best suited to handle liquor licensing instead of the SLA. His spokesman, Fabien Levy, said after the news conference he “will look into it.”

City community boards already get a say on liquor licenses, though their votes are not binding. In the case of Avant Gardner, Brooklyn’s Community Board 1 unanimously voted against giving a license to the club in 2017, but SLA awarded it anyway.

With Denis Slattery

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