Irony: ‘Union’ divides neighborhood

The Brooklyn Paper
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A thriving bar and concert venue in Park Slope is a victim of its own success — or rather its neighbors say they’re victims of the nightspot’s success.

Union Hall has catapulted into the upper ranks of Brooklyn watering holes since it opened on Union Street in July, 2006, but has been at the center of controversy for just as long, with irate locals complaining that noise from the bar keeps them up into the wee hours.

The bar’s owners will face their many critics on May 8, when Community Board 6 holds a hearing about renewing the bar’s soon-to-expire liquor license.

“We’ve been addressing their concerns since we opened,” said Jim Carden, co-owner of the bar, adding, “we have a lot of information about what we’ve been doing and we’re going to present it at the meeting.” He declined to comment further.

But neighbors on Union Street and around the corner on busy Fifth Avenue say the steady flow of revelers in and out of the cavernous space creates a nightly disruption, especially when popular live musical acts are booked in the basement concert space.

“The problem is you have a hugely popular bar,” said Jon Crow, president of the Union Street Block Association. “As groups leave, they’re still in bar mode, yelling up and down the street.”

The upcoming hearing is the culmination of two years of complaints that have drawn in the 78th Precinct, the community board and elected officials to mediate between Union Hall’s owners and its rankled neighbors.

Out of those meetings have come several conciliatory gestures from the bar, previously a long-closed kitchen cabinetry shop. Union Hall now closes its backyard patio at 10 pm on weeknights and 11 on the weekends, and there are also signs on the doors imploring patrons to be courteous.

People who have relaxed in the evening in Union Hall’s living-room-style bar, which is lined with bookshelves, might be surprised by its late-night reputation.

“The bar is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of thing,” said David Smith, who says noise reaches him in his Fifth Avenue apartment.

“It’s very sedate on Tuesdays at 6:30 in the evening, but on Fridays at 2:30 in the morning you don’t want to be there.”

Defenders of Union Hall are sympathetic, but say the critics have exaggerated the extent of the problem.

“[What the critics are saying] is willfully untrue,” said Eugene Mirman, a regular patron and comedic performer at the bar. “People don’t leave here at 5 am, shouting, seven nights a week.

“And remember something,” he added. “This is New York City. There is going to be a little noise.”

The battle between bars and neighbors is perhaps as old as drinking itself, but there has been an intensification of conflicts since New York City banned smoking indoors in 2003 and with the proliferation of nightlife in previously residential corners of Brooklyn.

The Community Board 6 vote is only advisory, and Union Hall foes recognize the odds are slim that the State Liquor Authority would deny the groggery a renewed license. But they hope the controversy will push the community board to be more reluctant to support new bars on relatively quiet blocks.

Indeed, CB 6 just weighed in on a similar controversy, voting to support a Carroll Gardens restaurateur and bar owner who wanted to open a raw bar on the largely residential Hoyt Street. The board voted overwhelmingly in favor of the barman, Jim Mamary, despite substantial opposition on Hoyt Street.

Community Board 6 hearing on Union Hall’s liquor license will be on Thursday May 8 at 6 pm in the board’s offices (250 Baltic St., between Court and Clinton streets). Call (718) 643-3027 for info.

Updated 5:06 pm, July 9, 2018
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