Yee-Haw! Scores Goes to Chelsea, And Wild West Gets Wilder

If a law that tightens restrictions on adult-entertainment establishments, put on the books last fall by outgoing Mayor Rudy Giuliani, finally does take effect, strip clubs and other purveyors of naughty diversions may be going the way of the art galleries: to West Chelsea. At least that’s where Scores, the topless bar preferred by such aficionados of the bosom as radio personality Howard Stern, is headed.

Despite the objections of local businesses who came before Community Board 4 on March 6, the board went ahead and voted unanimously to recommend that the New York State Liquor Authority approve Scores’ liquor license for its new digs in the neighborhood. “It was a strategic vote,” Board 4 district manager Anthony Borelli told The Observer .

While a 1998 Giuliani administration dictum banished all X-rated businesses to manufacturing zones, Scores, thanks to a loophole in the law, has remained at its East 60th Street location. But that loophole (allowing a business to operate in a commercial or residential neighborhood if no more than 40 percent of its floor space is dedicated to prurient pursuits) would be tightened Giuliani’s law goes through.

Litigation from X-rated shops or action from the Bloomberg administration-which, thus far, has avoided taking a position on the matter-could prevent the law from going into effect. If it does, though, Board 4’s district-thanks to the proud industrial heritage of Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea-has lots of manufacturing zone to offer to sexy businesses seeking refuge. Mr. Borelli told The Observer that he’s already fielded calls from representatives of adult-entertainment establishments scoping out the neighborhood.

But even within manufacturing districts, the zoning imposes limitations, such as prohibiting more than one adult-entertainment establishment within a 500-foot radius. If the strip clubs must come, board members figure that Scores-whose dancers don’t bare it all, and whose $700 bottles of wine attract a well-heeled clientele-isn’t the worst of them. If Scores lays claim to the area first, it could keep out other, raunchier operations.

“Personally, I’ve been there,” board member Lance Dashefsky confessed. “It’s a very high-class establishment-I think it’s the classiest,” he continued, before checking himself: “Not that I surveyed all of them.”

In addition to sleazier adult fare, board members hope that Scores-which operates under a company, aptly named Go West Entertainment, that has already signed a 20-year lease on a 30,000-square-foot defunct parking garage at 533-535 West 28th Street-might help fend off an anticipated liquor-license application for a large nightclub on the same block between 10th and 11th avenues. “One of the advantages of putting [Scores] in is that it’s going to make it more difficult for the disco to come in,” said board member Pat Rogers.

Despite the strategic advantages of supporting Scores, there were some objections. “No matter how wonderful your establishment is, how clean … when the patrons leave the establishment with a woody, they’re going to want it taken care of,” said board member Adam Honigman, by way of expressing his fears that the club may foster prostitution or otherwise compromise the security of the neighborhood.

Other complaints came from area property owners concerned that the presence of a strip club will lower the value of their real estate. Cornell DeWitt, proprietor of the eponymous art gallery on 27th Street, voiced his fears that Scores’ arrival will halt the steady northwest march of galleries, boutiques and other businesses that have been reviving the far reaches of Chelsea. “It’s a matter of association,” Mr. DeWitt told the board. Those businesses “don’t want to be in the same neighborhood as an establishment like Scores.”

For its part, Scores isn’t exactly thrilled about its new home, either. “We’re not going there by choice,” Scores consultant John Neilson told The Observer . “This is not a pretty street,” he continued, pointing out the profusion of sanitation trucks on the block, dilapidated sidewalks and the neighboring scrap yard. “Do you think we want to be there?”

Scores plans to spend approximately $5 million to convert the building and will be ready to open in Chelsea as early as November. Mr. Neilson told The Observer that the East 60th Street location is slated to close when (and if) the law takes effect this fall-or else will shut its doors when its lease expires in September 2003.

For its Chelsea location, the club has agreed to a number of stipulations from Board 4, such as planting trees and installing street lights in front of its new building, providing security patrols and meeting regularly with community representatives to deal with any problems. “The tenants who are there,” Mr. Neilson told The Observer , “have not made any attempt to clean up the street. We’re the people spending the money and upgrading the neighborhood.”

-Karina Lahni

March 20: Board 8, Lenox Hill Hospital, 100 East 77th Street, auditorium, 7 p.m., 758-4340.

March 21: Board 2, St. Vincent’s Hospital, 170 West 12th Street, Cronin Auditorium, 10th floor, 6:30 p.m., 979-2272; Board 9: 565 West 125th Street, 6:30 p.m., 864-6200.

March 26: Board 3, P.S. 20, 166 Essex Street, auditorium, 6:30 p.m., 533-5300; Board 12, Milstein Hospital, 177 Fort Washington Avenue, 7 p.m., 585-8500.