Following the revocation of his liquor license, the proprietor of a Stockade District nightspot claims he’s the victim of a vendetta, both by local police and the State Liquor Authority.
The Alley Cat Jazz and Blues Club at 294 Wall St. opened in 2016. Joe Salamone serves as a managing partner for the club. Brooklyn resident Elizabeth Zmolil holds the liquor license and co-ownership of the bar with Salamone’s daughter, Jessica. Salamone said that he opened the bar to bring jazz, blues classic rock acts to Uptown Kingston and cater to clientele of 40- and 50-somethings.
“I get an older, mature crowd,” said Salamone. “Sometimes we would have a DJ in here doing dance music, but it was always a controlled place, never had an issue.”
Salamone claims that virtually from the moment he opened his doors he was subject to a campaign of harassment by a single neighbor who phoned in dozens of noise complaints to the city police, who in turn passed them along to the State Liquor Authority. Salamone claims that Kingston police also reported him for complaints that were either unfounded or par for the course in a neighborhood where 11 bars occupy a radius of a few blocks.
In one instance, Salamone said, he was hit with a complaint after someone defecated in his doorway, despite video evidence that the culprit struck well after closing time. Salamone added that he got another referral to the liquor authority after he called on police to deal with an unruly patron.
The bulk of the 30-odd complaints collected by Salamone’s attorney, Alex Mainetti of Mainetti, Mainetti and O’Connor, involve allegations that the bar violated the city’s noise ordinance and came from the same neighbor. Salamone disputes the noise complaints. He said he installed a decibel reader on his phone and is certain that noise levels never exceeded the 70 decibel limit laid out in the noise ordinance. Mainetti said that it was clear that local police had paid a number of visits to the Alley Cat but, he said, he had no way of knowing whether the attention was warranted or not. Salamone, meanwhile, called the actions of the police part of a vendetta.
“I think they’ve been giving us extra attention and not giving the right places the right attention,” said Salamone.
In September, the State Liquor Authority slapped the bar with a notice laying out 11 alleged violations. Eight of the violations involved noise complaints. Another alleged that the bar violated state liquor law by serving house-infused pineapple and jalapeno vodka. The complaint also charged the bar with employing security staff without the requisite license and for failure to “conform with all representations” set forth in their liquor license application.
Mainetti said the liquor authority offered a deal: Alley Cat could maintain its liquor license if the owners paid a $10,000 fine and agreed to stop hosting live music events, except for a single acoustic show once a month. Salamone said the prohibition on live music struck at the heart of his business model.
“We’re a jazz and blues club, we set out to provide good music to Uptown Kingston,” said Salamone. “It was a settlement offer that they knew we couldn’t accept.”
At a March hearing before an SLA panel, nine witnesses, including seven local law enforcement officers and two SLA investigators, testified against the bar. In addition to backing the allegations contained in the official complaint, Mainetti said that several officers testified that the Alley Cat was operating as a “drug bar” despite the fact, he said, that there was no record of any drug arrests at the location. The state witnesses also testified that the bar had become a “focal point for police activity” — a designation, Mainetti said, that made it difficult to mount a defense.
“‘Focal point for police activity’ just means that police were dispatched there, it doesn’t matter why, it doesn’t matter if [the bar owner] is doing the right thing by calling the police,” said Mainetti.
On April 24, the SLA board handed down its decision finding the bar culpable on all 11 counts and revoking its liquor license permanently. Mainetti said he was surprised by the harshness of the penalty.
“They didn’t have to do that,” said Mainetti. “They had the authority to suspend the license, to levy a fine but to revoke is a lot to do for this.”
Salamone, meanwhile, says he plans to continue his effort to bring quality live music to Uptown. He said he’s received an outpouring of support from patrons, supporters and musicians. Salamone said, his plan for now is to continue operating as a music venue and serving non-alcoholic “mocktails.”
“I’m not going to back down, I’m not going to let them run me out,” said Salamone. “We’re not a drug bar, we’re a jazz and blues club.”