On June 15, Black Betty, the popular Williamsburg Middle Eastern eatery and live music venue that was one of the first bars in the neighborhood to cater to the “hipster” scene when it opened in 1999, will close.
News of the shuttering came as a shock to fans of the 366 Metropolitan Avenue club, which had posted a message on its MySpace page in early April stating that it had just signed a new 10−year lease.
Like a lot of closings in New York, this one was not without its share of controversy.
Bud Schmeling, one of the bar’s owners, alleged his landlord broke a verbal agreement on a lease the parties had agreed to in February. Schmeling said that while he was awaiting final confirmation on the lease from his lawyer, the landlord gave the lease in mid−April to another person, who plans to operate a bar.
“The entire time, [the landlord] knew he was never going to give us the lease. He was just stringing us along and making us pay month to month until he could find someone else,” Schmeling said.
After the bar’s 10−year lease expired late last year, its rent went up from $2,700 to $5,000, on top of a $35,000 lump−sum payment.
Schmeling and Black Betty co−owner Sandy Glover cobbled together the money and embarked on a series of fundraisers to help recoup their debts.
“We’re devastated. We were planning on being here for another 10 years,” Schmeling said.
“It was a very emotional thing. We got all this money together and everyone thought Black Betty was saved,” he added.
But the landlord, Pasquale Pescatore, had a different take. He said there was never a verbal agreement in place with Schmeling, and described the owners as delinquent tenants.
“That was not so – I never strung him along. They gave me a check, and then they bounced a check, which made me feel they weren’t very interested. So I went out and found people that were more interested,” Pasquale said.
Pasquale also claimed the owners still owe him a water bill for some $18,000 and frequently bounced rent checks.
“I had to go to court with them five or six times during the 10−year lease, probably more, because they didn’t pay rent on time. I didn’t want to be chasing after rent every month,” he said.
Schmeling said that the confusion surrounding the bar’s closure has made it difficult for its staff of 15 employees to look for work elsewhere. He himself works part−time at Peter Lugar’s, while co−owner Glover works part−time as a book−keeper, “but this was the main source of income for both of us,” he said.
The bar’s patrons are also upset about the loss of a bar that gained a reputation for its unique ambience and laidback vibe. The bar hosted weekly musical traditions like Brazillian night, rock trivia night, and the “dirty gospel” of Reverend Vince Anderson and his Love Choir.
“There’s a casual quality to Black Betty – I’ve always liked the atmosphere,” said Turner Cody, a patron.
“It’s been a cool place to see music the past couple of years.”
Cody, a folk musician, added, “This place has supported a lot of underground stuff.”
The bar’s last night, June 15, will feature a performance by Anderson, marking the end of a four−year long tradition on Metropolitan Avenue.