By Jack Holland
The owners of 66 Water Street, the new bar recently opened in Brooklyn between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, might be about to test the adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Last Wednesday, Brian Donohue, Leonard O’Connor, Jim Keane, and Sean Davis opened the pages of the Village Voice newspaper to find their new enterprise the subject of the popular weekly’s “Shelter” column. But it was mainly devoted to voicing the complaints of a couple who live directly above the bar, which opened officially on March 16.
“This situation is like a writhing mass,” wrote the reporter, referring to the struggle between Karla Olivier, her husband, Reeves Carter, and the bar downstairs. So it was — a writhing mass of complaints which have produced police visits, an inspection from the Department of Buildings, and repeated inspections by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, all of which so far have failed to actually substantiate the accusations from Carter and his wife that they are being driven out of their homes by the noise, the smoke, the vibrations and other alleged violations.
“You moved into this large, elegant loft — steel refrigerator, marble sink on silver poles — in February 2000,” said the Voice columnist, Toni Schlesinger. “You put in South Asian-inspired furnishings, a dining table made of Indonesian wood, chairs with Thai, sparkling pillows from India. You’d just gotten married after meeting at the Justice Department — Karla was representing a Somalian refugee. You were happy! You loved blossoming DUMBO, one of the fastest-gentrifying industrial neighborhoods in the world. . . . You loved the chocolate shop in your building with the rabbits wrapped in cellophane, the park, the people.”
Indeed, the area known by the acronym DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), lying snugly between the bridges, not far from the East River in the midst of the renovated 19th century Brooklyn dockside, is something to wax lyrical about as it gets ready for an even bigger upgrade, thanks to the plans to turn the area into a linear park.
“But then, last summer, they began building a bar downstairs,” the Village Voice noted ominously.
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The first battle came when the Carters found their apartment “filthy with dust from the sandblasting.”
The owners of 66 Water Street put the couple up at a hotel at $179 a night until the place was cleaned. They paid for an industrial cleaner to clear the mess.
Said Dubliner Brian Donohue, who also lives on the second floor and is neighbors with the Carters: “For a while it seemed fine. Mr. Carter seemed OK about it.”
“But then,” wrote Schlesinger, “on St. Patrick’s Day, the bar opened.”
Carter told the Village Voice: “The floors were shaking.”
Added Olivier: “We’re on pins and needles at night. I dread my weekends. And the smoke! I wake up feeling hung over as if I’ve been at the party.”
About a week after the opening, the Carters complained to the New York City DEP. On March 24, DEP records show, an inspection was made. The inspector checked for noise levels from the downstairs bar. He filed an A2, meaning that the levels were within DEP limits and that there were no grounds for complaint.
However, that was just the beginning of the “writhing mass.” Between March 24 and April 14, Carter made another seven complaints to the DEP, which followed them up with another seven visits to 66 Water Street. On two occasions, the inspectors could not gain access to the apartment (filed as an A8). But the results of the remaining five inspections were the same as before — all A2s.
Undeterred, the Carters tried another tack. On one occasion, the vice squad swooped on the bar, following, they said, a complaint from a “private citizen.” They checked the bar’s liquor license, made sure there were no underage drinkers, and finding everything in place, departed. Then four weeks ago there was another police visit, this time accompanied by the Fire Department. The cops said they were responding to a 911 call. According to Brian Donohue: “The cops said that he had reported that there was overcrowding in the bar, that people were fighting outside in the street, there was possible narcotics use on the premises, and that the fire exits were blocked.”
The cops looked around, found nothing, and left.
“There was only 20 people in the bar that night,” Sean Davies recalled.
In the meantime, the owners say they have spent another $60,000 putting extra soundproofing in the lower level, adding a sprung ceiling at the back, and another smoke extractor.
Repeated calls to the Carters for their comments were not returned.
“It seems you are doing everything to make the place work, and you keep getting shot down with the constant complaints,” lamented Jim Keane, one of the owners.
The bar war continues unabated. When 66 Water Street held a benefit to aid the Worcester Theater Group for its production of a play, “Between The Bridges,” which was attended by the actor William Dafoe, the Carters draped a protest banner from their apartment covering the bar’s name.
According to the owners, there have been between eight and 10 calls to the local precinct but at no time has the bar been written up. Now, they say, the police have stopped responding, which could be worrying in its own way. According to Davies, Carter has also called the Department of Buildings, complaining about excess garbage in the rear. Once more, an inspector struck it down.
Meanwhile, the Carters, supported by two other tenants, have gone on rent strike. Though the complainants have been offered a new apartment by the property managers, Two Trees, they have refused. If anyone seems keen to move it is Brian Donohue — but not from the bar, from his apartment next door to the Carters.
“We’re moving out,” Donohue said. “My wife feels intimidated.”
Donohue and his wife moved on Memorial Day weekend.
But 66 Water Street has no plans to follow suit. They have just opened a restaurant on the premises and they have been encouraged by Sid Strutt, who also lives upstairs on the fourth floor, to fight on.
“As for the music,” Strutt wrote in a letter to the owners, “which apparently causes sleepless nights, necessitates earplugs for tenants and cause floors above to shudder . . . this seems to me a total exaggeration. Apart from Saturdays, you can hardly hear the music and barely notice it at all . . . and that is when you are actually inside the bar itself.”
Tell that to the Carters. On an early morning toward the end of May, their windows remained covered with cardboard slogans that proclaim defiantly: “FIX BAR 66,” “WE CANT SLEEP,” and “TOO MUCH NOISE”. Bar wars continues.