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Tough Life

Is this megaclub at the end of its velvet rope?

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It's beginning to look like Life may be facing an untimely death. And the threat isn't coming from a drug bust or Rudy Giuliani's quality-of-life czars. It's coming from a condo board.

The club, which opened in 1996 and quickly became one of New York's hottest hangouts for models and those who enjoy being seen with them, occupies the basement and first floor of the Atrium, a mostly residential building on Bleecker Street. Over the past few months, Atrium residents have been asked to give affidavits attesting to the noise and smoke that come into the rest of the building as part of a case that could restrict smoking and music after midnight -- and effectively put the club out of business.

The complaints are simply a smokescreen for tangled business disputes, according to Life owner Roy Stillman. The Atrium operates as a "CondOp," a part-residential, part-commercial building run by a board of managers, and Stillman says the board is using the affidavits to pressure him into settling their legal differences.

"I cannot think of another disco of this size that operates in a residential building of this nature," counters Edward Rubin, the board's attorney. What's more, he says, "Life got an increase in occupancy without consulting the building, and they didn't pay common charges until they were forced to by court order. We're simply seeking to enforce the rules."

The legal trouble started about three years ago, when Stillman filed a suit seeking compensation for what he says were critical building renovations made when he purchased the basement space in 1994 -- including replacing steel support beams. The board of managers countersued, charging that Life's noise level violated condo regulations and its VIP lounge had taken over part of the basement owned by the condominium.

The only thing both sides agree on is that the noise complaints will carry the most weight -- especially in the Giuliani era. "Life has played a key role in the renewal of Bleecker Street," says Stillman, who's collecting affidavits of his own from "pro-Life" residents. "But attacking me as a nightclub owner is an easy thing to do."


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