Does the town have an obligation to allow a new restaurant at least a chance to operate as the owners deem necessary – with a full entertainment license allowing bands and DJs? Or, does the town need to protect residents and town character from a potentially noisy neighbor?
The Town Council refused to decide Monday night, despite a clear majority (3 to 2) against granting an entertainment license for the proposed Havana “supper club,” at 11 Main St. (formerly Rok Bar and Grill). Instead, members voted to table the request until their meeting Tuesday, May 27. The men behind the proposed Cuban-style restaurant were asked to bring in additional documentation of proposed sound mitigation measures.
When the backers of Havana appeared before the Town Council two weeks ago, several neighbors expressed their concern and councilors grilled the backers – nearly everyone citing the noisy mess of a restaurant that was Rok Bar (which closed in January).
John Davis, one of the two principals behind Havana, said he was going to make significant upgrades to the building, including new windows and the addition of sound-absorbing curtains. The council continued the hearing, granting them time to meet with neighbors and come up with a sound-mitigation plan.
Two weeks later, Davis told the council he’d hired a sound engineer who had reviewed the plans and made other recommendations. He also told the council they would be removing the permanent raised stage and that musicians would perform on the other side of the building. He talked about the new double-paned windows he was planning to install, and showed photographs of a building in Narragansett that was retrofitted with similar new windows. Davis also said they would be sound proofing the gap between the ceiling and the roof, which he said had reverberated the sound.
When Councilor Jeff Cianciolo brought up the noise that occurred when trash was removed and the door from the kitchen to the back was left open, Davis said they were aware of that issue and would be make sure that door remained closed.
But Davis was not willing to budge on the request for a full entertainment license, which would include bands and DJs.
“We’d like to keep our options open. That doesn’t mean we’re going to do all of that,” he said. “Instead of guests leaving, they will hang around and all of a sudden, 9 or 10, we’ll start to mix it up a bit.”
Councilman Brad Bishop countered, “This isn’t Sinatra. This is AC/DC.”
“No, this isn’t AC/DC, sir,” Davis replied. But, he added, “we don’t want to be limited to a three-piece band.”
Bishop painted a scenario where the town granted the license, then revoked it six months later after repeated neighbor complaints. He asked if Davis was prepared for that possibility.
“Spending the money I’m going to spend, making the repairs I’m going to make, I’m not going to let that happen,” Davis replied. “If there’s an issue, we’er going to address that issue. I need to protect the investment … to mitigate the sound coming from the building.” (You can see a video of Davis here.)
Four residents from the neighborhood got up to speak, three against and one in favor of allowing Havana to have a chance.
Ron Bylikie, who lives on Peirce Street, had met with Davis on Saturday. He said the meeting went well but he remained unconvinced.
“I’d like to drive to your restaurant. I don’t want it to be within walking distance,” said Bylikie. “Whatever you want to call it – supper club – it sounds like a nightclub to me. I believe this is out of context with the historic district in town.”
Abutting neighbor Sam Scott said he could accept that he lived next door to a restaurant, but there were limits.
“I knew I lived next door to a business, but I don’t know why music is necessary,” he said.
Neighbor Kelly Lindley spoke on behalf oh her husband, who was away. “He wanted me to underscore it’s wrong to hold these people accountable for the sins of the last venture. We are comfortable with the plan that the license can be revoked.”
Council President Michael Isaacs said he thought the entity should accept a more restricted entertainment license,m while acknowledging Davis’s plans to improve the soundproofing.
“My concern is a bar with bands,” he said. “Why not a vocal and instrumental license” instead of a full entertainment license?
Again, Davis reiterated the need to “keep our options open.”
Councilmen Mark Gee, along with Bishop and Isaacs, came out against granting the full entertainment license. Cianciolo, alternatively, argued that Davis and his partner should be allowed to try out Havana – full entertainment license and all – noting that Davis was a grown man and was aware the risk he was taking by spending money on the building. Councilman Mike Keirnan agreed.
Davis argued his plan for the building would work and said he wasn’t sure anyone else would be interested in putting as much as $1.5 million into it, raising the specter of a large, empty, dilapidated building at one of the entrances to town.
After more than an hour, the council and the Havana team decided to delay the vote by at least one more meeting, on Tuesday, May 27.
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