October 22, 2013
By Dana Varinsky
LOWER EAST SIDE — The Soho House’s controversial new Lower East Side club won a license from theState Liquor AuthorityTuesday afternoon, overcoming strong opposition from local residents.
Representatives for the proposed five-story members-only club at 139 Ludlow St., called Ludlow House, successfully argued before the authority that the new venue would provide a public benefit to the area — by bringing foot traffic to neighboring businesses during the day, and by providing a space for creative locals to network and collaborate.
“Ludlow House is far more than a place to drink or get a meal,” Soho House’s lawyer, Donald Bernstein, told the SLA, explaining that its offerings and programs “are not something you are going to find at any other venue in the neighborhood.”
Ludlow House had to prove to the SLA that it would bring a public benefit to the community, because the part of the Lower East Side where it hopes to open is already saturated by bars.
The club faced strong opposition from its neighbors when the plan was unveiled, and its liquor license application was rejected by Community Board 3 in May.
CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer declined to comment on the SLA’s decision.
Ludlow House is slated to be open to its members and their guests from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily and will offer fitness classes and office workspace, along with food and drinks and a 1,500-square-foot open rooftop area, according to the proposal.
Membership at Soho House, which is primarily open to those working in creative fields, costs $900 per year for people under age 27 and $1,800 per year for those who are 27 and up, according to the website.
The State Liquor Authority granted the license on the condition that no alcohol would be permitted on the club’s outside rooftop, and that the door between the outdoor and glassed-in portions of the top floor remain closed at all times. The outdoor area would also only be permitted to remain open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. out of concern for neighbors living in the adjacent buildings, the SLA said.
Bernstein said Ludlow House is planning to give a large part of its basement space to the Educational Alliance, a community organization that offers education, recreation and social service programs, to use free of charge. In addition, he said, he is amenable to try to get the building landmarked at the request of Friends of the Lower East Side, a historic preservation group.
But several neighbors spoke out against the Ludlow House Tuesday’s meeting.
“It’s an assault on any semblance of normalcy for those who live nearby,” said one resident who told the State Liquor Authority that he lives 4 feet away from the proposed club’s rooftop.
Diem Boyd, a founder of the LES Dwellers, a group that speaks out against the saturation of bars in the neighborhood, also questioned the idea that the club’s members would bring daytime business to the Lower East Side.
“I don’t see how people who pay a membership to go somewhere that has everything inside are going to help the neighborhood,” she said.
After the SLA meeting, a Soho House spokeswoman said it was important to the club’s management that they have an honest dialogue with their neighbors.
“We are immensely grateful to the residents who supported us and we hope we can earn the trust of those that didn’t,” the spokeswoman said in a statement. “We truly believe that opening a House on Ludlow will enhance an already incredibly creative area.”