NYPD Conducts ‘Gotcha’ Raid on Nonprofit Market Hotel, Tweets High Fives

The entrance to Market Hotel's main space

The entrance to Market Hotel’s main space. Todd Patrick

When Brooklyn’s most respected DIY venue impresario Todd Patrick and I last spoke, he was celebrating his famed Market Hotel, an old Dominican speakeasy-turned-show space at Myrtle and Broadway in Bushwick, reopening after choosing to close down six years earlier when police threatened to toss all the then residents in the street if they kept operating.

In that downtime, Patrick and countless volunteers made renovating the space their labor of love. The money they earned from shows during their first few months of reopening afforded new sprinkler systems and more amenities to improve the space, including making sure its exits and occupancy laws were up to code. While their liquor license application would take time to process, their nonprofit status afforded them the opportunity to apply for unlimited temporary event permits, a practice common among much larger arts organizations and institutions in other neighborhoods.

So when Market Hotel announced last Friday that they were moving all upcoming shows to other venues, the local creative community was on alert. DNAinfo first reported that the police had raided the space again, slapping Market Hotel with a criminal summons for warehousing alcohol unlawfully. As early as Monday that week, their temporary event permits were still being approved, but when the liquor license application moved into “pending” status, the temporary permits were denied.

“Maybe our organization is perceived as not worthy of the same latitude that some other arts institutions receive.”—Todd Patrick

Patrick accepted that Friday would be a dry show, but it took less than two hours after the permits were denied for the police to show up, and they arrived at the space before Patrick or his operations manager ever had a chance to get the alcohol out of the space. DNAinfo has since corrected several of that story’s inaccuracies, but in his interview with the outlet, Deputy Inspector Max Tolentino of the 83rd Precinct said several things that amount to slander. Tolentino criticized Market Hotel Projects for applying for and receiving as many as 15 single beer permits a month in the past year, called into question the legitimacy of the Market Hotel Projects’ not-for-profit status and asserted the organization’s charity work was a “guise.”

By questioning the motives of a legitimate, on-the-books nonprofit, Tolentino was talking out of line and questioning something not in his field, as his opinion on the subject is not shared by other community leaders.

Patrick has since addressed the situation openly in order to clear the air. On Patrick’s side are the facts—that the State Liquor Authority allows not-for-profits to receive single-day beer permits without a specific limit; that Tolentino’s precinct reviewed and approved every permit that Market Hotel was issued in the last year; that Market Hotel has been the subject of no 911 calls and scant community complaints; that they engage in frequent community work and partnerships with local elected officials, and that dozens of bars in Bushwick have received liquor licenses with no commitment to any community service and have been the subject of complaints and even criminal activity, but haven’t been subjected to this kind of targeting.

Those 311 records are publicly available thanks to Open Data laws, and here they are. Please zoom in on your browser for more detail.

Screenshot

All five of Market Hotel’s 311 complaints. NYC Open Data

The above screenshot shows Market Hotel’s 311 complaints, all five of them. Two complaints accuse smoking, which the venue doesn’t allow inside under penalty of immediate kick-out with no refund. They have many, many signs and are quite strict about banning smoking. One complaint claims the venue had “No Certificate of Occupancy,” despite their possession of a Temporary Public Assembly certificate (more on that later) under which they are legally allowed to occupy the space.

The other two are noise complaints, which is a pretty remarkable number for a music venue over the period of time that Market Hotel has been opened. None of these 311 complaints led to any kind of violation, and all were closed with no enforcement deemed necessary.

Contrasted with complaints from other spaces in the area, not even music venues, but bars—the scant number of complaints is telling. Here are the this year’s 311 complaints for Club Republic, a bar just across the street:

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Club Republic, the bar across the street from Market Hotel, has received over 50 noise complaints so far in 2016. NYC Open Data

Neighborhood bars Boobie Trap and Lone Wolf have similarly telling 311 logs, making one thing clear—all other nightlife venues in the area exceed Market’s neighbor complaints several-fold, though they are smaller and don’t have live music. Hence, Market Hotel is exemplary, and not a scofflaw.

So between the speed that police raided the space, the entry without permission, and the fact that they publicly shamed Market Hotel by posting photos of their raid on the precinct’s Twitter, there are a lot of developments to this story that should raise eyebrows.

Adding insult to injury, after the police filed a bogus complaint with the Department of Buildings claiming Market Hotel was being used as a dormitory and wasn’t up to fire code (both untrue), they got the DOB to come out with them on the raid. Despite this, they walked right past a huge, 20-foot-deep hole that wasn’t on Market Hotel’s property, but on city property but less than 15 feet from their front door. The police and DOB inspector walked right past it and did nothing, even though there was an open complaint in the DOB system.

The hole in question

The hole in question, ignored by the DOB during their raid despite it being logged as a complaint. Courtesy of the Author

The most consequential thing about all of this, of course, is the organized effort of the police to discredit Market Hotel as something less than a legitimate community arts institution, which anyone who’s seen a show there will contest.

Beyond their own programing, Market Hotel has hosted K2 task force meetings presented by Mayor de Blasio’s office and Council-Member Antonio Reynoso; a series of official MTA public hearings organized by Gov. Cuomo’s office and State Senator Martin Dilan; and regularly scheduled after-school programs and gymnastics and dance classes and performances in partnership with the Coalition of Hispanic Family Services and the Arts and Literacy after school program. Add to that weekly gatherings for parents with young children, yoga classes, tai chi, benefit events for other local charities, and more. Now there is a very legitimate worry that the aforementioned slanders will affect their candidacy for a permanent liquor license.

This reporter can’t help but feel that the tremendous cultural disconnect between law enforcement and the independent/avant music community has given police blinders on how important of a place this is to everyone in my neighborhood—from academics to ravers, from crust-punks to intellectuals. And with all of this talk from police lately that places blame for their deep-seeded schisms with other cultures and vulnerable communities on them, you get the sense that doing right by the working class people making art in your neighborhood might be a good place to start.

I caught up with Patrick to get his side of the story, and learned a whole lot about how policy can be manipulated and cajoled to envelop and place that the police consider to be a nuisance in a false narrative.

Todd with his young son

Todd with his young son Todd Patrick's Facebook

Todd Patrick: Hey, good afternoon! Thanks for reaching out. You saw the statement that was issued on Facebook by Market Hotel? That really sums up most of what we have to say about this incident.

Yeah, I mean your need to even release such a transparent statement was a reaction to the fact that the reporting coming out about this wasn’t entirely accurate, right?

We haven’t sought publicity about this. But unfortunately the first piece that went up, in its first form, contained some inaccuracies that we felt needed to be corrected.

I don’t even remember if it wound up making the final story because we had so many words, but last time we were talking about the closing of Palisades and you said to me how there often seems to be a perfect storm of regulatory governmental agencies that combine to come down on these spaces.

I think the story is different with every closure, it’s never cut and dry.

Well, what initially really made me uncomfortable this time was that the NYPD takes photos of their seizures now, and posts them on Twitter. They tagged all the organizations involved in a congratulatory, “good job” post. But what I gathered from all the information out there is that you were closed down on a technicality after they saw an opportune moment to pounce. It seemed at least that even though you were trying to do right by them, that context didn’t enter into their final decision.

Screenshot

Your tax dollars at work. Twitter

That might be a fair assessment. That said, there are strict laws that most people probably aren’t aware of about storing alcohol. You have to be holding a permit or a license to sell alcohol or else it’s illegal to have any alcohol in a commercial building. Our permit application for that evening got denied an hour and half before the police arrived, because our applications are for one-day permits and our application for our permanent liquor license “crossed in the mail,” so to speak. And as it turns out, you can’t have both kinds of licenses pending at the same time.

We’ve run dry events before when permits weren’t issued for whatever reason, and we intended to run Friday dry. In any case, we arrived at Market Hotel to set the place up for a dry event just over an hour after we got the notice that we couldn’t have a permit to run a bar that night, and the police were already inside our building and wrote summonses and seized evidence and charged us with “warehousing.”

And you were waiting forever to get the full one, right?

We’re a not-for-profit organization and the city has a system called “Temporary Public Assembly,” which allows a building to be used in advance of every last I dotted and T crossed on a renovation project, as long as certain safety procedures get followed and the building gets inspected by FDNY on a regular basis, and fees are paid. It’s a way to start operating while you’re navigating the system, and in our case it was a lifesaver because we never could have afforded to complete the last of the things we had to do for our final sign offs if we weren’t able to open when we did, back in December of last year.

Because we were able to get that TPA, and because we’re a 501(c)3 not-for-profit, we were eligible to apply for single-day Temporary Beer and Wine permits from the State Liquor Authority, which really was the only way we could’ve done it, to be honest with you. Because we simply didn’t have the money to have completed this project without all of the fundraising that came out of the event series we were doing in the spring, summer and beginning of fall this year. Those one-day beer permits are issued by the SLA and get reviewed and approved (or denied), one by one, by the local police precinct.

Unfortunately, you can’t get a permanent full liquor license from the SLA with a TPA. A liquor license requires a Certificate of Occupancy and a permanent Place of Assembly certificate.

We made a huge effort to make inroads with the precinct from the very beginning. We contacted the precinct’s Community Affairs office and tried to make plans to come in and meet with the leadership of the precinct before we ever initiated the event series. We’ve invited representatives of the precinct to come and check out our events, and to be involved in our daytime community programming.

“Applying for permits and licenses is following the law.”

We did eventually get a meeting with the leadership of the precinct and presented our plan. We have exchanged voluminous emails with the precinct and have stayed in constant communication. They have my personal phone number, of course. It’s funny, we’d just received an email from the precinct, and a friendly back and forth, as recently as Friday of last week, so one week before this happened. They reminded us cordially to get our permit applications in for Halloween weekend.

The precinct approved a permit for an event we held on Monday night, just a few days before this. So it’s a bit odd that there was a quote from the commanding officer of the precinct characterizing our many single-day beer permits as attempts circumvent the process, and in effect saying that we trying not to follow the law. We were within our rights as a not-for-profit to apply for one-night beer permits for our events, and the precinct specifically reviewed and approved every one-day permit that we were issued. Applying for permits and licenses is following the law.

The precinct has the responsibility to review, and has the prerogative to approve or deny any permit application in their jurisdiction. There were times in the past year when the precinct didn’t issue permits to us, either because of other things on the calendar when they thought it would be calmer for the neighborhood to have fewer events, during Puerto Rican Day Parade weekend was a good example. But also other times when they wanted clarification from us or wanted to send a message. And I should mention when that has happened, we faithfully operated our events dry. We have a demonstrated a track record of being trustworthy and capable of operating our events dry, and we fully would have operated dry on Friday night and until our permanent liquor license is issued.

One of the many community events hosted in Market Hotel's main space

One of the many community events hosted in Market Hotel’s main space. Todd Patrick

What do you think changed?

I’m not sure. We had put in single-day beer permit applications for this month, for the events that were scheduled this month, and we also had this permanent license application pending in the background that took a bit longer than the usual amount of time to get populated into the SLA system. So we were expecting to see our permit applications get declined at some point because, at any given moment, the shoe was going to drop and our permanent license was going to be in “pending” status, which, under SLA rules, means your location can’t get the one-day permits anymore.

We did look at ways to accommodate our audience during the permanent license pending period. The fact is that people like to be able to drink alcohol at concerts and cultural events—and why shouldn’t they—and so we explored legal ways to run a modest bar on site while the permanent license is pending. The solution we tried was that we applied for approval for a series of one-day permits to operate a small bar on a separate floor of our building, in an area that’s not covered by our permanent license application, and to restrict alcohol to that small area.

We’re friendly with a few not-for-profit cultural spaces who have done this in the past without issue. Also, our liquor attorney represents many well-respected, institutional cultural centers as clients, and has stewarded these sorts of applications in the past, for museums and fine arts centers and theaters in the city and Downtown Brooklyn and elsewhere. Most of these organizations host banquets and receptions as fundraisers and use concessionaires to sell alcohol at those fundraisers, and they change concessionaires from time to time.

When they do that or make other changes there’s a lag period when that part of their facilities can’t be licensed for alcohol, because there’s a review process, and so it’s common to bridge the downtime by getting the one-day permits for other areas of their buildings. Nonprofits can’t afford to stop fundraising. We suggested the same, and we were told no.

It’s been suggested to me that the precinct and/or the State Liquor Authority thought there was something untoward about our trying to get one-day licenses to run a small bar on a different floor of the building during our events while we would be waiting for the license.

“People want have drinks on their night out, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

So the concessionaire is another business that will come and handle the booze in case the police or regulators come?

Exactly, a lot of nonprofits don’t want be in the booze business, but nonetheless the audience and the performers expect to have alcohol at cultural events. To attract top artists to perform, a venue really needs to have a bar, or the bookings will go elsewhere. People want have drinks on their night out, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

That’s a revenue stream, too.

It’s a revenue stream but it’s also a booking requirement. Bottom line is, if we operated a dry venue, booking agents wouldn’t place the shows with us.

They know their fans wanna go out to party and boogie.

And they also know their fans will choose a venue that has alcohol over one that doesn’t. So if you really want to  be a serious actor in the concert/touring system, you can’t not have alcohol. And that goes for fine arts as well. They have beer and wine and mixed drinks at Broadway theaters, they have alcohol at the opera. Bottom line—there’s nothing unseemly about alcohol. It’s legal in this country, and it should be. I have no shame about being part of an organization that is a purveyor of alcohol.

But in any case, what had been recommended to me by other folks I know who have been involved in the not-for-profit cultural centers and art spaces is that when you have a situation where you have to respond to this “no permits while your license is pending” rule, is that institutions carve out a space elsewhere in the facility where they can continue to run a bar for the benefit of their fundraising events. A lot of these organizations host wedding receptions, they host banquets, they host charitable events, all of which have alcohol, and all of which require a permit to do so. We suggested being allowed to follow the same path and were denied. This was the background that preceded this visit by the precinct on Friday.

So it’s a very normal process and normal part of the landscape for not-for-profits to try and get a temporary license for a bar in a separate area while they’re pending a license in the big room or whatever.

Market Hotel's main room during soundcheck for an evening performance

Market Hotel’s main room during soundcheck for an evening performance. Todd Patrick

What happened with us is, when we finally got word earlier last week that our liquor license was now in “pending” status, we immediately submitted, “Hey, O.K. We’ll not do permits that we originally requested for these individual nights in our main space, but we have another room downstairs that also has legal occupancy. Can we do a small bar there that solely restricts the consumption of alcohol to that area, as in folks would not be allowed to bring alcohol back into the main space, but at least it’s something that we can provide to our patrons.” And like I said, this is a normal thing for an arts institution to do.

It’s not a subversive practice.

Not at all. It may be an unknown method of operation here in Bushwick, but it’s not unknown in other parts of Brooklyn or Manhattan. My assessment is that for some reason or another, that request sparked a sense of “who do these guys think they are?” Maybe our organization is perceived as not worthy of the same latitude that some other arts institutions receive.

How do you understand this as someone who follows politics and understands how narratives work in society as a big picture? When something like this happens to you, how tempted are you to wax conspiratory a little bit and how do you parse out what you think might be happening behind the scenes with what you can tangibly prove and understand?

I don’t think there’s any sort of conspiracy here. I think there are people who work at different regulatory and enforcement agencies who feel that there are normal, right ways to do things that they may attribute to statute or law, but are actually practices local to their jurisdiction, and have become custom, despite how it might be done in other areas in the same city or the same state or same country. The thing that happens is you end up with hardworking officials who take it somewhat personally when they think that folks are not following the protocol that they have spent so much of their careers working within. This is pretty understandable.

“Maybe my own reputation informs the perception. The police know that so many articles have championed me as this guy who years ago did wild and crazy underground stuff that was a characterized as messy and dangerous…”

My experience is that a lot of enforcement officials have specific opinions about how things are supposed to be done, and sometimes that can be a little hard to unravel, especially when the law might get carried out differently elsewhere in New York City, and when the applicant is earnestly, but perhaps insufficiently, diplomatically trying to push for approval for what could keep the organization afloat.

It’s not a matter of conspiracy, it’s a matter of perception, and I think that sadly, and this is no insult to the police, just a statement of fact, that the police in this particular jurisdiction, as well as possibly the SLA, may not see this organization in the same light as other more traditional fine arts institutions.

That’s the funny thing, though—between this place and Trans-Pecos you’re really putting on some of the most avant-garde shows that you’ve booked since I’ve been here. I mean, Silver Apples in November…

We had Laurie Anderson, she’s a huge figure on the fine arts landscape. We had Faust. There’ve been quite a few legendary avant-garde performers that have performed at Market Hotel. But you know, the reality is, maybe my own reputation informs the perception. The police know that so many articles have championed me as this guy who years ago did wild and crazy underground stuff that was a characterized as messy and dangerous—

That’s all they see.

And I think those articles were exaggerations even at the time they were written, but, you know, that background can make it an uphill battle for the organization I’m involved in to be respected as a trustworthy caretaker of the law.

Market Hotel.

Market Hotel. Courtesy of Market Hotel

Is that why you felt compelled to write, “look guys, I’m a father”?

That’s exactly why, and that’s the truth! Being a dad has changed my life and my motivations in every conceivable way.

But you shouldn’t have to qualify or justify your intentions.

At this point I’m less concerned with what I should or shouldn’t have to do and more concerned with what is going to get the message across.

At this point we have spent a lot of time, energy, blood, sweat and tears, a lot of people’s labor has gone into the project that is Market Hotel—a lot of people’s aspirations and volunteer work, not to mention money, have gone into making this place exist. And it’s very aggravating to see its motivations questioned, let’s not mince words here.

Of course I do appreciate and respect that the police are the ultimate authority, and the law is the law, and there’s no aspect of enforcement here that was unlawful. Maybe the fact that they came into the building without anyone authorized letting them in, but that’s neither here nor there. But more importantly, I respect what they see as their duty to enforce in the law.

But yes, as I said in another interview, it’s hard not to feel that this is a bit of a “gotcha” moment. For gosh sake, our permit was turned down less than two hours before they arrived on the scene, and our permit wasn’t turned down for any punitive reason. It was turned down because we’re finally in play for a permanent liquor license.

You can’t have both, yeah. To make sure I understand, the booze was being kept in this off-show area that would have qualified as a different region?

Well, I wasn’t there when they showed up, so I can’t necessarily speak to it—our operations director dealt with this situation. After we got the denial email on the night’s permit, he went to the facility to prepare the space for a dry event. When he got there the police were already inside the building. He tried to explain that the license had just been denied and they certainly understood what he was saying but said, “Hey, you know, strictly reading the law no alcohol can be here” and so they seized a collection of bottles and cans as evidence and tweeted photos about it.

It’s hard not to see that tweeting as a sort of stunt meant to humiliate us, but whatever. The truth of the matter is, we recognize how the law reads and what our error was, but what this doesn’t reflect is an organization trying to get around or break the law.

Every detail of how Market Hotel Project has operated has been about a commitment to follow the law and the rules and to maintain positive communications with the police and all regulatory agencies. We are committed to following the letter of the law. We have voluminous emails showing a deep and constant commitment to seeking consent from all levels of regulatory authority for our method of operations.

“It’s hard not to see that as an attempt to find trouble where there is none.”

I remember when this place shut down and I remember how many years you went through working to get everything legit just to reopen. As you explained to me, your logic behind a soft opening was very much in that vein, you didn’t wanna rock the cradle too much. And it’s a shame that even with all of the things that you’ve done this feels like a hustle.

Well, I understand why warehousing is against the law in New York State, it’s not against the law everywhere, but it certainly means something that warehousing, the idea that it’s illegal to have alcohol even if you’re not selling it, drinking it, or giving it away…it’s not something that most people would even know is a illegal, it probably wouldn’t even occur to a lot of people that it would be illegal. But again, the law is the law, and if what they’re accusing us of is true, then we made an error. But it was an error, it wasn’t an attempt to operate some criminal enterprise.

Obviously we were denied the permit application only an hour or so before they took action. We respect that the police are ultimately the authority tasked with enforcing the law, and warehousing is the law.

The police came with a Department of Buildings official, and we learned later that this was because there was a “high priority referral” filed by the precinct to the Department of Buildings, with a claim that there was “dormitory” use at Market Hotel and “insufficient” exits, and the the referral specifically made a claim that “occupants had reported to NYPD that they sleep there.”

You haven’t had anyone live there in a good while, right?

Nobody’s lived at Market Hotel in years. We have two code-compliant fire exits and the entire facility is inspected routinely by the Fire Department and by the DOB. Market Hotel occupies the space legally; we maintain a valid Temporary Public Assembly certificate.

Worth noting is that Market Hotel has never had a 911 call. We’ve had scant 311 calls—certainly fewer than many of Bushwick bars—and none that involved the police entering the building. So the fact that an “emergency” complaint was filed claiming “dormitory” use and not enough exits…you know, I understand the tactic to try and get the Department of Buildings to come in in a hurry, but it’s hard not to see that as an attempt to find trouble where there is none. The Department of Buildings did not find any evidence of those things.

Screenshot of the NYPD's Emergency Complaint to the Department of Buildings

Screenshot of the NYPD’s Emergency Complaint to the Department of Buildings nyc.gov

The big question is whether or not this has been orchestrated as a phony precedent to deny you the permanent license.

That might be an elephant in the room. It certainly seems designed to send a very strong message to us, or possibly to influence how we are perceived, and all of that affects our liquor license application.

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