Board Tells Junger’s Half King:
Put a Lid on the Racket
Best-selling Perfect Storm author and daredevil investigative reporter Sebastian Junger has risked life and limb to get the story on atrocities in war-ravaged countries from Afghanistan to Bosnia. He has received the National Magazine Award for his 1999 reporting on the war in Kosovo and the Johns Hopkins University SAIS-Novartis International Journalism Award for his 2000 exposé on the diamond trade in Sierra Leone, both published in Vanity Fair.
Mr. Junger, in short, is a trusted journalist. But when his 23rd Street bar and restaurant, the Half King (which he owns with several partners, including Nanette Burstein, producer of this summer’s well-received documentary on Robert Evans, The Kid Stays in the Picture ) promised to install soundproofing in order to reduce the noise that was disturbing a neighbor, Community Board 4 first had to see it to believe it.
In July, the Half King came before Board 4’s transportation – planning committee with an application for a sidewalk café. Representatives from the Half King were joined at the meeting by their next-door neighbor, Ronnie McFadden, who had strenuous objections to the café proposal because, she explained, she was already having noise problems with the Half King. “In my 23 years of living in this house,” Ms. McFadden wrote Board 4 in April, “I have encountered no other restaurant that generates as much noise as does the Half King, and so our tenants should not be burdened by additional noise.”
According to several board members, the dispute at the committee meeting was so heated that the board sent one of its members to Ms. McFadden’s apartment to witness the alleged disturbance in person. Although there was no audible bar noise inside the apartment, they found that it was, indeed, leaking into the hallway in Ms. McFadden’s building.
Since the Half King’s mahogany bar is mounted on the wall that the restaurant shares with Ms. McFadden’s building, soundproofing from the Half King’s side would be prohibitively expensive (the bar would actually have to be ripped out to facilitate the construction). So the Half King’s owners went to Plan B, offering to soundproof the hallway outside Ms. McFadden’s apartment. But she rejected that solution, on the grounds that she feared the soundproofing would make the corridor even narrower than it already is.
So in August, the Half King put a lock on its stereo to limit the volume and moved on to Plan C, promising to insulate the ceiling in its bar area to reduce the echo from the overall sounds of merriment bouncing off the wood-paneled walls and oak floor.
But by the time a letter endorsing the Half King’s planned 13-table sidewalk café came before the full Board 4 at its Sept. 4 meeting, the soundproofing had yet to materialize. So the board promptly postponed its approval pending completion of the work. “One of the things we can do in granting or not granting the sidewalk café is to try to … make [the applicant] more responsive to the neighbors,” Lee Compton, a member of the board’s transportation-planning committee, told The Observer . “We’re only in an advisory role; our recommendations have no teeth. But sometimes we can embarrass people into doing things.” The board also took into account the timing of the situation. Said Mr. Compton: “You don’t get much [construction] done at the end of August. I would like to give them a chance to act in good faith.”
As it turned out, Mr. Junger and his Half King cohorts were as good as their word. By 11 a.m. on the following Monday morning, Sept. 9, acoustical tile had been installed in the barroom ceiling over a layer of drywall. So the Half King’s sidewalk café is back on Board 4’s agenda for approval this month, and it should be open for business next March.
“The acoustics in the place-we weren’t too happy with them, anyway,” Half King co-owner Jerome O’Connor told The Observer . “It was too loud in there.” Furthermore, the Half King’s owners are so happy with the new acoustical quality that they’re planning to install the same soundproofing in the rest of the bar over the next several months. As for not being taken at their word by the community board, they’re not taking it personally.
“I don’t think it matters who owns the place-it’s the procedure,” Mr. O’Connor told The Observer . “I don’t think it was directed at Sebastian. When somebody says they’re going to do something,[community
boards] wait for them to do it and then give their approval.”
Sept. 17: Board 1, P.S. 234, 292 Greenwich Street, auditorium,
6 p.m., 442-5050; Board 11, La Guardia House, 307 East 116th Street, 6:30 p.m., 831-8929.
Sept. 18: Board 8, New York Blood Center, 310 East 67th Street, auditorium,
7 p.m., 758-4340; Board 6, New York University Medical Center, 550 First Avenue, 7 p.m., 319-3750.
Sept. 19: Board 2, Lucille Lortel Theater, 121 Christopher Street,
7 p.m., 979-2272; Board 9, 565 West 125th Street, 6:30 p.m.,
Sept. 24: Board 3, P.S. 20, 166 Essex Street, 6:30 p.m., 533-5300; Board 12, Columbia University Alumni Auditorium, 650 West 168th Street, 7 p.m., 568-8500.