Even before Leonardo DiCaprio showed up over Labor Day weekend, La Marina had become the talk of the neighborhood. Nestled on parkland between the Hudson River and the green Inwood hills, it’s an easy place to kill an afternoon on wine and mussels.
After Beyonce and Jay-Z’s more recent appearance, La Marina topped Us Weekly’s list of celeb-friendly bars in New York City.
But some locals don’t welcome the attention. To them, La Marina is just the latest in a line of Dyckman Street bars bringing unwanted noise, congestion and hard-partying to their quiet hamlet. Community members vented their concerns last month at a public forum hosted by City Councilman Robert Jackson at nearby Inwood Library.
“It’s a quality of life issue for families trying to raise kids,” said Laura Stein, 42, after the forum. Stein, a social worker who’s raising children and pursuing a doctoral degree, lives on Riverside Drive and Staff Street, closer to La Marina than most locals. Her kids have had to sleep in another room some nights to avoid hearing the car horns, music and chatter coming through the windows.
“The idea of the Marina restaurant is lovely. We went there on a Sunday afternoon for lunch, but it’s clearly not made for families,” said Stein, citing loud music and the waitresses’ short skirts.
Late on a Thursday afternoon, the waitresses had traded their miniskirts for early-autumn leggings. Inside, La Marina feels like a cross between a downtown nightclub and a Hamptons beach resort. Both the restaurant and bar offer open air and panoramic views of the Hudson.
Music made conversation difficult next to the bar, but out on the patio where both DiCaprio and Jay-Z once lounged, it was easy to hear Fernando Mateo defend his business.
Mateo, La Marina’s co-owner, skipped Jackson’s forum. But he sees his business as a diamond in an historically rough neighborhood.
“Before we came here, there was drag racing, drug dealing, prostitution,” he said. “You couldn’t walk down here safely. Traffic used to be unbearable, because people wanted to be right by the river. Now you see speed bumps, signs that say 25 mph. You can walk your dog at midnight and feel safe.”
Responding to comments he’d heard about his wait staff, Mateo also wondered, “Why should it bother you that they’re doing their job? Are they sluts because they have pretty bodies?”
“We feel proud that we’re able to bring money from all over the world,” Mateo said, explaining that the bar has attracted visitors from as far as Brazil, while employing 160 locals. For those who wish to arrive at the bar by boat, he is building a 22-slip marina.
At Jackson’s forum, residents painted a different picture. La Marina’s location at the end of a cul de sac, combined with poorly coordinated traffic lights, led to gridlock along Dyckman on weekend nights last summer, they complained. Emergency responders wouldn’t be able to get through the traffic, and no one had assessed the environmental impact of all the idling engines.
One woman, noting the bulletproof vests worn by La Marina’s bouncers, said she no longer felt safe walking her dog without similar protection.
While some residents acknowledged a history of noise in the neighborhood, many pointed fingers at the music reverberating from La Marina and other businesses that open their sidewalk space for eating and drinking, including Mamajuana Cafe and Papasito Mexican Grill & Agave Bar.
Typically, the noise has ended around 12:30 a.m., when La Marina is supposed to close on weekends, said Stein. But on some summer Sundays, disc jockeys who promoted themselves on Twitter and Facebook drew crowds as late as 3 a.m.
The Police Department didn’t respond to a request for records of recent traffic violations and noise complaints around west Dyckman Street.
Community Board 12 is well aware of the discontent. “The big issue now is traffic, but they also play music after 10,” said Board District Manager Ebenezer Smith, who has experienced the traffic first-hand during his commutes from the Bronx.
“Those people have a right to sleep, and the people across the street have the right to operate their business, so where do we find a happy medium?”
La Marina, which sits on land owned by the parks department, avoids the higher rent it would pay on private property down the street. To host live music, it must apply directly to the parks department for an event permit that would require amplified music to end by 10 p.m.
At a Community Board meeting last month, Kristin Norderval, 55, a musician who’s lived in Inwood for 25 years, said she had learned from the parks department that La Marina hadn’t applied for a permit when a DJ played the previous weekend.
“We were presented with a very different picture of what this place would be like,” Norderval said. La Marina has a 500-person seating capacity and must close its doors at 12:30 a.m. Without a city cabaret license, no dancing is allowed.
“La Marina is in violation of all of these,” Norderval said. “So I want to know, why are the parks department and the 34th precinct not requiring La Marina to abide by the contract that they made, and what can we do about it? We want a meeting,” she said to applause.
Board Chair Pamela Palanque-North said she would invite Nordervall to a meeting with police representatives and Board members. Norderval has yet to hear from Palanque-North, Jackson or parks department representatives.
Now that the crowds have leveled off with cooler weather, Norderval thinks any meaningful action will stall until next summer.
“If your complaint is legitimate, we’ll look into it,” Mateo said. “We’re not implying that anyone should move. But this is property that has been beautified and made available to the community.”
He mentioned steps La Marina had taken to lessen traffic, such as meeting with the Department of Transportation and installing a bike rack outside. In fall and winter, it plans to host family-friendly events such as bonfires and pumpkin carving.
“We want to be neighborly people, and we want to be treated with respect and honor,” Mateo said.