Opinions differ on whether state should renew Sin City’s liquor license
It’s 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon and Sin City Cabaret is almost packed. But although the gentleman’s club nestled among warehouses alongside the Major Deegan Expressway is a magnet for the kind of money rarely seen in Mott Haven, Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. wants it shut down and its liquor license revoked, calling it a “nuisance” and a “hotspot of violence.”
Some residents support the jiggle joint, saying it is an asset to the community, while others side with the BP, saying it can’t be shut down fast enough.
The topless-only club’s bright red awning and gaudy exterior seem out of place in the industrial neighborhood. Residents say the club, which opened 15 years ago, brings money to the neighborhood, in the form of wealthy clients as well as good-paying jobs for residents and generous donations to local charities and other causes. Sin City has become popular among Gotham celebrities, like New York Giant star Odell Beckham Jr. and rapper Puffy “P Diddy” Combs.
But Diaz Jr. is urging the New York State Liquor Authority to revoke its liquor license when it goes in front of a panel in February. In a letter to the Authority, Diaz called the club a “poor corporate citizen of the Bronx,” that does far more harm than good.
The club’s liquor license was renewed last November, but its owner was ordered to go in front of the State Liquor Authority on Jan. 25 to answer to allegations that Sin City committed multiple violations when agents raided the club last summer responding to tips that prostitution and drug trafficking were being taking place. The hearing was postponed to early February when witnesses no-showed at the Authority’s Harlem office.
Crime statistics, however, show a decline in major crimes committed at the club at 2520 Park Ave. There were seven reported assaults at the club in 2014, five in 2015 and three last year, according to the NYPD. Deputy Inspector Brian Hennessy, commanding officer of the 40th Precinct, says the club cooperates with law enforcement whenever asked. All patrons are required to have their ID cards swiped to ensure validation as they enter the club and IDs are kept on file and available to law enforcement at the precinct’s request, he said.
“While there have been numerous reports involving the club, only a few of them have been for serious crimes,” said Hennessy, adding that there were no reported shootings at the club in 2016—a problem in years past. “They have been taking the right steps to ensure the safety of their patrons.”
Despite those statistics, Community Board 1 is siding with the Borough President. At a November board meeting the board voted not to support the club as it seeks its liquor license renewal. Board member Josephine Byrne, who headed a sub-committee that Sin City’s general manager Gus Drakopoulous came to address in November, said the club has long been a neighborhood nuisance, and that has not changed.
“Things that are happening inside the club…are spilling over into the streets,” said Byrne. “People are hanging out outside and they have many noise complaints.”
Drakopoulous countered that the club rarely gets complaints, and is being treated unfairly. He added that community leaders don’t appreciate his club’s contributions to the neighborhood.
“Community leaders are out of touch with the ground floor of the community,” said Drakopoulous, adding that his club is one of the area’s biggest employers. “They base their opinions off the media and their perception is not reality. We provide a safe place work environment for people in the community. People with no education can work here and make above minimum wage.”
Some residents say Sin City is a generous donor to important local causes, and that the borough president is doing his constituents a disservice.
“I thought his comments were disgusting,” said Maria Vega, chairwoman of the advisory board at the Betances Community Center. “I grew up in this community. Sin City is one of our largest donors here at the center.”
A back-to-school event last August brought almost 3,000 kids in need of book bags, at which Sin City was one of their largest donors, she said.
“Many parents can’t even afford coats for their kids,” said Vega. “At our last drive they donated coats, shoes and raised funds.”
Some say they understand the strip club is not for everyone, but that shutting it down would do more harm than good.
Mott Haven resident Rhaiza Padilla, 27, a former employee, said that some of the clientele the club brings in have cash to burn, which benefits everyone. She recalled the time rapper Flo Rida patronized the club and spent thousands of dollars.
“A lot of those girls are in college. If the club closes, I know it will leave a lot of young girls with no place to work,” Padilla said, adding, “The job wasn’t for me but I’m not here to judge how someone else makes their living.”
The story was updated on Jan. 28 with a correction. A previous version of the story said that the owners of Sin City were being ordered to appear at the State Liquor Authority on Jan. 25 for a standard liquor license renewal, as a spokesman for the Authority based in Albany told The Herald. However, a spokesman for the Authority’s Harlem office told The Herald that club ownership’s appearance on that date was the result of 18 violations found at the club last summer as the result of a raid by federal authorities, not a run-of-the-mill renewal hearing.