In drag-out fight, neighbors say to give queens the boot | East Villager & Lower East Sider

In drag-out fight, neighbors say to give queens the boot

Posters for drag queen performers at Boots N Saddles posted outside the bar on Christopher St.   Photos by Lincoln Anderson

Posters for drag queen performers at Boots N Saddles posted outside the bar on Christopher St. Photos by Lincoln Anderson

BY CLARISSA-JAN LIM  |  Emotions ran high last week at a Community Board 2 meeting at which many community members voiced their opposition to a liquor-license application by a well-known Christopher St. gay bar, Boots N Saddle, as it planned to relocate a few blocks away to 47 Seventh Ave. South.

Concerns about the bar at the board’s Sept. 9 State Liquor Authority Committee meeting ranged from the music level to the appropriateness of the entertainment. But chief among Boots N Saddle’s problems was that a large portion of the new space consists of an enclosed sidewalk cafe constructed of glass. Under city regulations, musical instruments are not allowed to be played nor speakers used in the cafe area. The bar planned to have entertainment-level music, a DJ and six televisions.

The Seventh Ave. South space is bigger than the Christopher St. one. Bar owner Robert Ziegler, accompanied by the place’s founder, Ron Silver, said the bar was “busting out of [its] seams” at its current home.

According to Carter Booth, co-chairperson of the S.L.A. Committee, only about 25 percent of the space is confined by the four building walls — too small an area for the kind of entertainment that Boots N Saddle is looking to provide.

“The law is pretty clear. I’m not sure if stipulations would allow for what you guys want to do at the location,” Booth told the applicant.

The bar previously hoped to relocate to 37 Barrow St. But that plan fell through after its liquor-license application was denied by C.B. 2. Its Plan B was to take over the vegan restaurant Soy and Sake’s space on the ground floor at 47 Seventh Ave. South.

Above the space are five residential units and an office. Velvet Abashian, board president of 13-15 Morton St — the building’s residential entrance address — said the building’s bylaws prohibit activity, such as loud music, that would disrupt any of its residents or occupants. 

Beth Walman, the owner of a residential building next door to the space, said the large quantity of trash the bar would produce would affect her tenants, some of whom have windows facing the alley that the buildings share. 

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“Plus,” Walman added, “the smoking and loitering at all hours of the night — it just makes the neighborhood, which is so nice and quiet, into something it was never intended to be.”

Many were worried about the noise and behavior of patrons. David Poster, head of the Christopher St. patrol, an anticrime group, said that Boots N Saddle’s bigger space on Seventh Ave South would be certain to attract larger crowds and increase traffic to and from Christopher St. and the surrounding area.

“It would bring back the mayhem we have fought so hard to eliminate,” he predicted.

Poster insisted the bar would have a devastating impact on the area and its residents.

“Therefore we highly disapprove Boots N Saddle reopening on 47 Seventh Ave,” he said, before firmly adding,“or basically anywhere in the West Village.”

The neighborhood’s character was a frequent topic during the discussion. Albert Bennett, representing the Morton St. Block Association, who is also a public member of the C.B. 2 Landmarks Committee, said the building with the disputed space was designated a landmark. 

“Landmark applications are for the certificate of appropriateness,” he said. “I cannot imagine anything less appropriate for this part of our enclave than this particular application.”

Some also brought up the drag shows and karaoke nights at Boots N Saddle as a cause for concern. A representative from the Central Village Block Association pointed out the proximity of the Hudson Park Library, where children’s programs are held. Reading snippets of online reviews of the bar, the representative mentioned one that described a full-service bar with gay male strippers in thongs, panties and black boots.

“That’s not homophobic,” she said. “That’s about what’s going to be seen through the glass doors.”

Bennett also stressed that the Morton St. Block Association should not be accused of homophobia, noting that the association had elected two gay presidents in succession.

The attorney for Boots N Saddle’s application, John Philip, countered with the “bigger picture” argument. Philip pointed out that further north along Seventh Ave South toward the Christopher St. subway station, there are a multitude of clubs and bars, including Jekyll and Hyde and The Garage, a restaurant that has music by a big band.

“I think there has been a major point that has been missed,” Philip said. “The very character of the Village was created by these cabaret spaces. Drag performers — these are fundaments of the Village. And if you take all of these away because you say it’s too loud or too this, you’re going to destroy something ineffable in this very community.”

A number of those present at the meeting were in support of Boots N Saddle, although none spoke up. After the committee had finished hearing the issue, the majority of people left. However, many openly voiced their outrage as the discussion continued outside the meeting room. Bernice Holtzman, a Village resident for almost 30 years and five-year patron of Boots N Saddle, said that owner Ziegler was a “wonderful neighbor and a wonderful human being,” as she recounted personal anecdotes about the “Boots family.”

“Just to sit there and hear the horrible lies about the crime and the urination — it just doesn’t happen,” she asserted. “When I walk by, I feel safer because of their presence,” she said of the bar. “It’s well-lit, it’s responsible, and the noise — it’s not noisy. 

“[Ziegler] had invited them to come the last time to see what they were about, and somebody had stuck their head in and said, ‘Don’t you get it — we don’t want you here.’ So don’t tell me that’s not homophobic. The way they’re painting it — adult entertainment, an S&M bar — it’s nothing like that.”

Sandy Kaufman, a longtime Boots N Saddle patron, said the place has been a refuge for him.

“It was a place where I could feel secure being a gay person,” he said. “It continues to be a place I could meet doctors, professors, lawyers, servicemen.”

During the meeting, committee member Shannon Tyree applauded the warm relationship Boots N Saddle had developed with the community it catered to, and said she would love to see the bar find a place that’s right for it.

“It just isn’t this space,” she stated.

Afterward, Philip remained optimistic. 

“We believe we’ll be approved [for the liquor license] there, because we’re grandfathered in.

“We understand their concern, we understand their fears,” the attorney said. “Hopefully, they’ll see it and we’ll all be good neighbors.”

However, it looks like Boots N Saddles’s search for a new home will continue. Booth subsequently told The Villager that the bar has withdrawn its application for 47 Seventh Ave. South. 

“I think the community board’s position is that we hope they can find a home, in the area, in a good location.” 

As for Boots N Saddles being “grandfathered,” Booth said that was not certain, since the bar has a tavern license whereas the Seventh Ave. South space has a restaurant license.