The schoolyard of PS 111 is bordered by a tall chain-link fence, except at the back corner, where the muraled back and side of a building jut into the space where children play during recess and have after-school programs. The brightly-painted walls of that building are the subject of much debate: Boxers, a gay sports bar based in Chelsea, wants to open a second location in Hell’s Kitchen, in the building that abuts PS 111.
Tempers flared at a recent Community Board 4 meeting, as Boxers patrons in identical red baseball caps provided by the bar owners praised the owners for their community work, and local residents and parents voiced their concerns with the bar’s proposed location. The Community Board voted against recommending Boxers to the New York State Liquor Authority, but the fate of the bar will remain uncertain until SLA makes its official decision in the coming weeks.
Migdalia Colon is the co-president of the PTA and a parent of three children who attend PS 111. At the community board meeting, Colon summed up the chief argument of many locals who spoke.
“I don’t care – Mexican,” she did a small dance, “gay, straight – I’m for equality! The issue has nothing to do with that. It has to do with a bar. In a school yard.”
The proximity of the bar to PS 111 and the neighboring Sacred Heart of Jesus School, both of which teach children in grades pre-kindergarten to eighth, has been the main point of contention between the two parties. In spite of claims that the bar is “in a schoolyard,” the bar will comply – thanks to an entrance that is in the process of being relocated – with a law that requires the door of a bar to be 200 feet away from a church or school.
Parents are more concerned about the location of the bar than the location of the door. Karina Siurano is the supervisor of PS 111’s after-school program, mother of a four-year-old girl, and secretary of the PTA. “The owners cannot promise the kids will be one hundred percent safe, that no incidents will happen,” she said. “At bars, people drink, hang outside, the kids will see people smoking.” The school is an asthma-free zone, and several parents expressed concern about second-hand smoke.
Bob Fluet and Rob Hynds, Boxers’ owners, have promised the community a later opening hour of four p.m. to avoid conflicting with regular school hours, but Siurano says that the schoolyard, where 596 children play each day, has after-school outdoor programming as late as six in the evening. Parents echoed concerns at the meeting that the bar’s rooftop area can be seen by children at the after-school program. Fluet, who is gay and the father of two children, says that these concerns are not warranted.
“The truth is purely a fear of the unknown,” he said. “There is so much misinformation, about booty-calls, men kissing on the roof… If people think that we are going to have guys wearing no pants, with kids around, in the middle of the day, that is not a fact.”
The bar did have a pantless promotion at their location in Chelsea which precipitated the Hell’s Kitchen controversy. At the community board meeting, the owners denounced the event as a “disaster” that would never happen again.
Some people at the event felt that homophobia was a major factor in the community’s resistance. The first man who spoke in favor of Boxers at the community board meeting said, “This opposition is rooted in homophobia,” a comment met with boos from many locals, but one that others echoed throughout the night. Community board secretary Burt Lazaran commented that people were “speaking in code phrases, code words.” He said that while unintentional, there were questionable implications in parents’ claims that this was a “family neighborhood.”
In spite of community resistance, the owners of Boxers are moving forward with their plans, saying that the location is optimal because of its large space and an isolated location that will not disturb neighbors with loud music.
“Boxers is a nice place – I would go!” Colon said in an interview. “It’s nothing against the establishment.” If they do get the liquor license for their proposed location, which the PTA hopes they do not, Colon said “then it behooves us to let them know ‘don’t let your people do this, don’t let them do that, don’t let them smoke.’”
Fluet maintains that Boxers will give back to the Hell’s Kitchen community if they receive the liquor license.
“We will fundraise for the schools. Even if they don’t want it. The playground is run down … if we’re lucky enough for approval, they will come to see we’re not the big bad wolf.”