Havana is the name of the restaurant proposed for 11 Main Street. Neighbors are worried about noise from live music.
A pair of businessmen appeared before the Town Council Monday night, hoping to get food, liquor and entertainment licenses for a Cuban-style restaurant they are hoping to open at the former Rok Bar/Post Office Cafe site on Main Street.
But, with memories of Rok Bar noise complaints still ringing in their ears, council members were not in a license-granting mood, at least not for that particular property and at least not yet.
“When Rok appeared before us … they presented us with the most comprehensive description of what they intended to do that I had seen on council,” said Council President Michael Isaacs. “They described the place as akin to Hard Rock Cafe, they said it would be a family-oriented restaurant, they gave us a full menu.… And the next thing we know, it was a nightclub. It was nothing like what was presented to the council. We really got burned by the applicants.”
During its less-than-year in business, Rok Bar had several incidents with the police because of noise. Neighboring residents came to two Town Council meetings to complain about the loud music. The restaurant closed in January after financial problems.
John Davis, a real estate developer and restaurateur from Walpole, Mass., told the council he planned to buy the building and make significant improvements, including replacing the windows with double-paned glass and adding sound-absorbing curtains, as well as renovating the exterior of the building. The restaurant, Havana, would be a joint venture between Davis and Ketan Patel, another restaurateur.
“I can’t erase the past, I’ve got nothing to do with that,” said Davis, referring to Rok Bar. “It’s got nothing to do with us.I can’t be held accountable for what they did because what they did was completely unprofessional as restaurant owners.”
He stressed the restaurant would be a place to eat first.
“But we have to have entertainment,” Davis said. “After 9 o’clock, people want to unwind. They want to have a drink, they want to have a little music. We’re not a rock-n-roll place that’s playing a lot of rock-n-roll music. That’s not what we are.”
Mike Marra, whose family owns the building as well as the Grille on Main across the street, addressed the council during the public comment portion of the hearing.
“I’d like to apologize to you.… The fellas that ran it, we just leased it to them because Steve had a handshake deal with them and we wanted to honor that,” he said, referring to his son Steve Marra, who ran the Marra Restaurant Group before his untimely death in 2011. Marra said the family wanted no part in a nightclub and he was sorry about the problems caused by Rok Bar. He said they’d had several offers on the building but they were turned down because they were not appropriate.
“We’ve turned a lot of people away. We think this is a good fit. But that’s your decision,” Marra said.
Scott Sogard, an East Greenwich resident who is helping to broker the deal between the Marras and Davis, said Havana would not be anything like the “disaster” that was Rok Bar.
“That was not the right fit for that location,” he said.
A few nearby residents also addressed the council.
“I’m not opposed to giving them a chance,” said Bryan Lindley, who lives on Division Street. But he said he did not want to revisit the Rok Bar era and he wasn’t sure if the owners’ desire to stay within the legal decibel level would be enough to satisfy neighbors.
“There’s very little for me to gain with them opening an entertainment enterprise in my backyard,” said Ron Bylikie of Peirce Street. “When the bands come on at 9:30 at night, I’m in bed. What happens when the meters read it’s ok and our windows are vibrating in our house?”
Bylikie said he’d lived on Peirce Street for 14 years and it was only after Rok Bar came in with live band music that there were problems.
Sam Scott, who lives next door to the building on Division Street, responded to Davis’s comparison of Havana to 1149 restaurant on Division Street, which also features live bands.
“I don’t think there are any homes as close to 1149 as the Post Office” building is to houses here, he said.
Earlier Councilman Brad Bishop also questioned the comparison.
“You mentioned 1149. I have myself personally been to 1149 several times and when I have, I have heard bands there in the back patio,” he said. “They were so loud I could barely hear. I don’t know if that’s the standard that I would use.”
Councilman Mark Gee was clear in his opposition to Havana as proposed.
“What I’m worried about is the creeping encroachment of noise from the waterfront up into East Greenwich,” he said. Residents are “my number one concern…. I’m not willing to sacrifice the quiet enjoyment of people’s living rooms and houses and neighborhoods and terraces and outdoor porches for your business venture.”
After more than an hour of comment and discussion, the council voted 4-1 (Gee dissenting) to continue the public hearing to its May 12 meeting. Davis said in the interim he and his partner would meet with the neighbors to try to allay their concerns.
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