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Mayor Adams Said the Era of Nightlife Raids Was Over. So What Happened to Saint Vitus?

"The spirit of CURE should be that every agency that receives complaints says 'these are the things you need to fix' before doing a dramatic 'gotcha.'"

Saint Vitus. (Mikeyfrecks / Wikicommons)

Last Friday night, the band Balmora was in the midst of their set at the Greenpoint metal venue Saint Vitus, when suddenly, a voice could be heard over the PA system: "Yo, the cops are here, shut it down." As you might expect from a hardcore show, both the band and the audience were determined to power through, and guys in long sleeve T-shirts continued to careen through the mosh pit as the band kept shredding through the song. But when they hit the last chord, the club's co-owner George Souleidis announced: "Guys, the cops are here, I've got to shut it down, dude. Show's over." General confusion followed. "Bullshit!" yelled one hardcore kid, and then another: "Fuck it, one more song! Go, go, go, go!" The band ripped into another song, but then all sound got cut off. "We have to close it up. It's out of our control," Souleidis said. 

The bar was the target of a surprise inspection by the Department of Buildings, and the NYPD tagged along as an escort, according to a statement the DOB provided to Hell Gate. The DOB said they were responding to a series of 311 calls that were seemingly, as reported by Gothamist, submitted by a single determined caller. Friday's visit was a follow-up on a violation the DOB had issued in July 2023 to Saint Vitus over their certificate of occupancy, which did not allow them to operate as an "eating and drinking establishment." At that time, Saint Vitus filed a job with the DOB to convert the venue to an "eating and drinking" establishment. As a result of Friday's inspection, the DOB issued a second violation, as Saint Vitus was continuing to operate without the proper CO, which could incur fines. Saint Vitus has remained shuttered (the venue says this is temporary) and has rescheduled upcoming shows at nearby venues.

Weren't the days of surprise, late-night raids supposed to mostly be over? City agents busting into Saint Vitus seems to fly in the face of the Adams administration's new nightlife-friendly posture announced just two months ago. At the end of last year, the Adams administration announced their new CURE process for nightlife venues to rectify compliance issues with City and state agencies, calling it the replacement for the much-maligned MARCH taskforce, which was known for NYPD-led surprise inspections on nightlife venues at peak hours. Before the public rollout of CURE, there had been some confusion within the nightlife community, as surprise inspections were still occurring, but not officially under the aegis of MARCH, the most notable example being a raid that shut down the Ridgewood danceclub H0l0 for several months last year. CURE supposedly implemented a process by which the Department of Small Business Services, under the City's relatively new Executive Director of Nightlife Jeffrey Garcia, would work collaboratively with venues to solve any compliance problems found by agencies like the NYPD, the DOB, the Department of Health, and the State Liquor Authority. "We want them to correct issues before we come in with heavy-handed enforcement," Mayor Adams said at the press conference announcing CURE. 

Though Hell Gate noted at the time that nothing in the new CURE guidelines could prevent raids like the one on H0l0, nightlife operators who attended Mayor Eric Adams's CURE announcement said they were hopeful that the new initiative meant surprise inspections that shut down venues were in New York's past. 

The inspection on Saint Vitus seems to fly in the face of the CURE process. SBS's press secretary Joseph Jourdan told Hell Gate in a statement that there's a bit of a loophole here. "City and state agencies continue to have the ability to conduct normal inspections and the enforcement of City code, and CURE is only initiated after repeated complaints to the NYPD," Jourdan wrote. Jourdan added,  "The initiation of CURE only occurs after repeated complaints filed to 311 are sent to the NYPD, and complaints specific to this establishment were directly forwarded from 311 to DOB."

Olympia Kazi, a founding member of the NYC Artist Coalition, which pushed for reforms to MARCH, and a member of the mayor's Nightlife Advisory Board, called SBS's statement "extremely weird." She balked at the idea that 311 complaints sent to one enforcement agency rather than another could cause the entire CURE process to be circumvented. "If that's true," she said, "that means that CURE is a joke."

"The whole idea is we're creating a better environment for venues to thrive," Kazi told Hell Gate. "Each and every agency should be operating with the understanding that they're there to ensure the safety of everybody in the venue, in a way that's neither criminalizing people, nor scaring everybody by doing it in such a drastic way, in the middle of the show."

Andrew Rudansky, a spokesperson for the Department of Buildings, meanwhile, contested Saint Vitus's statement that says the DOB shut the venue down, and the pronouncement by Souleidis on Friday night that the NYPD, who accompanied the DOB to Saint Vitus, were shutting down the show. Rudansky told Hell Gate that the agency "did not issue a Vacate Order at the building," but "issued a violation to the property owner for operating the unpermitted place of assembly, contrary to the legal occupancy of the building." The CO for the building, he noted, says it "is supposed be used for a commercial store and for the storage of machinery." When Hell Gate asked about the timing of the inspection on a busy Friday evening, Rudansky wrote that the agency attempted to visit at other times and were unable to conduct their inspection, either because no one was present or because they were denied entry.

So, what led venue staff to shut down the show, if the DOB didn't issue a vacate order? Hell Gate has reached out to Saint Vitus for comment, but they haven't responded. But a venue that has a single violation (and one that they've taken at least the first step to address) seems like the textbook case for the CURE protocol to kick in. "Many of us can talk about sitting in a restaurant or club somewhere and all of a sudden the lights come on, you have this large number of people that come in and just treat our businesses in an unprofessional way," Mayor Adams said at the CURE press conference last December. "That is not how you treat a business."

But that seems to be just about how Saint Vitus was treated. And a hub for an artistic community shuttering in fear of crippling fines over bureaucratic tangles, in the middle of a sold-out show, and triggering a wave of refunds, all sounds like exactly what CURE was supposed to prevent.

"The spirit of CURE should be that every agency that receives complaints says 'these are the things you need to fix' before doing a dramatic 'gotcha,'" Kazi said. "They knew they didn't have a certificate of occupancy even at 6 p.m. that night. It doesn't help what they're trying to achieve and it's detrimental to the venue and the people who work there."

Caroline Harris, a former Saint Vitus employee, told Hell Gate that the DOB's justification for the surprise inspection "doesn't pass the smell test." 

"I don't understand how that situation would have happened if they were clear," Harris said, referring to the DOB. "You don't just kick out a sold-out show."

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