Neighbors Accuse La Esquina of ‘Unsavory Conditions,’ Try to Block Liquor Renewal

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Back in May

La Esquina’s Williamsburg offshoot is coming along, but the mother ship just hit a speed bump. Last night, Community Board 2’s SLA licensing committee unanimously voted to recommend that the State Liquor Authority deny the restaurant’s liquor license renewal. "We've been hearing complaints about this place for six years," committee co-chair Richard Stewart told Grub Street — and the most recent ones came at last night’s meeting, where several women residents accused the hot spot of "unsavory conditions," including excessive noise, lack of sufficient egress from its cellar bar and dining area, and rowdy crowds.

Georgette Fleischer, an adjunct English professor at Columbia and Barnard, and a notorious foe of the restaurant, claimed an open vent at the eatery spewed "huge clouds" of smoke on the east end of the building. Fleisher, who lives kitty corner from La Esquina, also contended she had spotted unruly people milling around outside "while a security guard stood by still as a statue and did nothing." Fleischer said she was pleased by the CB2 committee ruling "but a little in disbelief because I expected them to approve" the restaurant's application.

Derek Sanders, one of the owners who appeared before the CB2 committee with his lawyer and general manager, at first thought the committee had given an okay for renewal and said he would post monthly signs outside the ground floor taqueria of his restaurant inviting residents to meet with him. He described most of the complaints by the aforesaid residents as outdated and even "slanderous," claiming the women were uninformed about the operation of a professionally run eatery and envious of its success. "It's so unfair because you never hear from these people and then every other year they bring up a combination of news," he told us. "We've had the Fire Department, the DOB, the Mayor's office — all these people come to our place because of these ladies.".

Sanders said that members of the Mayor's Special Task Force, which includes a multitude of city agencies such as the NYPD and Fire Department, did a walk-through after the Department of Buildings shut the restaurant down in May of 2010 "and they gave us the green light" to reopen several days later. Nonetheless, Marna Lawrence, a resident reading from a prepared statement, told the CB2 committee that La Esquina had failed to correct "serious Class 1 violations" — claiming that the eatery's cellar ceiling is "too low and therefore dangerous should there be a fire."

As usual, the ultimate say on the liquor license comes from the New York State Liquor Authority.

Update: Sanders, an architect, tells us he will come to the full Community Board 2 meeting on June 23 (where the CB will take its final vote) and present more documents to add heft to his application, including a letter from Democratic Councilmember Margaret Chin that he notes is supportive of La Esquina.