The NYPD has managed to temporarily shut down a number of high profile Lower East Side bars this year (Max Fish, anyone?), creating an atmosphere of fear among bar owners not knowing if they were the next stop on the list and about to find themselves in court fighting for their survival. Three weeks ago, it was Culturefix's turn. For those who don't know, Culturefix is a tiny combination boutique, bar, and gallery space that hardly ranks high on the Community Board's most wanted list. They still managed to get the attention of the NYPD, who, as is their wont, showed up on a Friday night with a court ordered injunction shutting the bar down and declaring it a public nuisance, forcing the owners to appear in court the next business day to answer the charges.
In most of these cases, the NYPD and City present the bar owner with a list of stipulations as part of a settlement agreement, and rather than try to fight City Hall, the bars usually agree. These agreements include requirements about hiring more security guards, using a scanner to check ID's, paying a hefty fine, and agreeing that future violations will result in a closure. Culturefix was given that option, but instead of simply taking the deal, they decided to fight. And won.
The bar's owner Cole Schaeffer tells Gothamist that they noticed that the Court Order was based upon rampant underage drinking, but it only mentioned underage, undercover police officers as the violators, and that no underage civilians had ever been caught there, despite two raids by the NYPD. Culturefix quickly lawyered up to fight the charges. The attorneys got the injunction lifted so the bar could reopen, and then they rejected the settlement offer and decided to take their chances in court.
The judge found that while the bar did serve underage cops, it was not serving underage citizens on a regular basis and rejected the fines that the City had imposed. The judge also declared that while it was probably a good idea, there was no legal requirement that the bar had to hire a security guard to patrol the door. The NYPD and bar must now work out an alternate agreement without those requirements until the judge is satisfied.
Culturefix took a major risk by going this route, creating a situation where they would have to pay the maximum in fines and agree to costly stipulations that could shut a small and new operation down. But they had the law on their side and have created a useful blueprint for other bar owners in the neighborhood to follow.
· LES Bar Culturefix Fights Back Against NYPD, Wins [Gothamist]
· Nightlife Coverage [~ENY~]
[Image courtesy of NYCHDR]