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Don’t Strip So Close to Me

Getting to the bottom of Sting and David Bowie’s problems opening a burlesque club in Nolita.

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When cops and nightclub owners rub elbows, handcuffs are usually involved. So folks at Community Board 2 were pretty much floored in the spring when two of the boys in blue showed up at a meeting to sing the praises of Ivan Kane, owner of the David Bowie–and–Sting–backed burlesque club Forty Deuce bound for Kenmare Street in Nolita. The 5th Precinct’s community-affairs officer, Richard Stellmann, even sent a letter calling Kane “a person of high integrity.” Thinking the NYPD was okay with it, the board gave the thumbs-up.

But by the summer, word had spread that Stellmann had acted without the green light from One Police Plaza. “The officer’s unauthorized letter did not represent precinct or Police Department support for the application,” says NYPD deputy commissioner Paul J. Browne. By then, Forty Deuce was undergoing a storm of protest by Nolita residents.

In response to the revelations about the renegade cop and local pressure, the community board’s executive committee voted on August 16 to rescind its endorsement of Forty Deuce and notified the State Liquor Authority, which has final approval of liquor licenses.

Kane’s lawyer, Robert Bookman, says the furor is nothing more than a smear campaign by locals “who went around the neighborhood and lied about what Kane is doing,” and that the flap over the Stellmann letter “is a lot of crap, and to use that as an excuse is nonsense.” Thanks to burlesque performers like Dita Von Teese, it’s transcended its strip-club roots to become a kind of performance art.

Both sides are gearing up for the board’s business committee’s meeting this week. Kane has hired lobbying heavyweight Bill Driscoll of the Parkside Group to handle negotiations. Meanwhile, residents are passing out flyers against Kane. “I think it might be difficult to reach a compromise, given how fractured the relationship is between [Kane] and the local community,” says board chairman Brad Hoylman.

But Bookman sees this fight as part of a larger problem with local politics. “This has to come to an end, this ultra-power being handed to people,” he says. Since the city’s nightlife draws 50 million people a year, “when they come and say, ‘We don’t want a liquor license,’ I ask, ‘Who’s we?’”

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