Thursday, July 31, 2014

Buffa's and Sidney Torres reach compromise in noise lawsuit

Posted By on Thu, Jul 31, 2014 at 12:40 PM

click to enlarge Buffa's Bar and Restaurant must limit its live music schedule during a 60-day agreement with neighbor Sidney Torres. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • ALEX WOODWARD
  • Buffa's Bar and Restaurant must limit its live music schedule during a 60-day agreement with neighbor Sidney Torres.

After more than an hour of discussion outside Civil District Court Judge Paulette Irons' courtroom, the owners of Buffa's Bar & Restaurant and its neighbor Sidney Torres IV and their attorneys reached an agreement — a temporary compromise that limits live music at the bar.

The hearing follows a lawsuit filed by Torres, who alleged the bar violates the city's sound ordinance and was improperly issued a mayoralty permit by the city to host live music. Buffa's received its permit in 2012 at the height of music schedule shuffles following a citywide crackdown on bars and venues without proper permits. Buffa's, which has hosted live music since 1994 with more frequency in recent years, collected more than 50 statements from past performers proving its function as a venue. Earlier this month, the bar collected more statements from musicians in its defense.

Torres (whose SDT Waste and Debris championed the French Quarter's trash pickup, street cleaning and city recycling services), however, argues in his suit that the music exceeds the city's sound ordinance. He also argues that it has damaged his property at 1011 Esplanade Ave., which neighbors the bar. The lawsuit surprised the bar staff and regulars, who have said Torres was a regular.

These are the terms of the agreement: no live music on Mondays and Tuesdays; music must end at 9 p.m. Wednesdays; music must end at 9 p.m. Thursdays until Buffa's installs a sound curtain or other soundproofing, after which music can end at 11 p.m. (that music, however, must be a duo with no drums or amplified instruments except vocals); and on Fridays and Saturdays, the music must end at 11 p.m., and 3 p.m. Sundays.

The 60-day compromise begins Aug. 4. The parties will regroup at the end of the 60 days.

The standing-room only courtroom was filled with Buffa's supporters wearing grey and black T-shirts with the bar's logo. On the Civil District Court steps, however, there were several people wearing black T-shirts with "bring back old Buffa's""no mayoralty permit" and "support our neighborhoods." According to the Music and Culture Coalition (MACCNO), a supporter said they were hired by a "private company," possibly Torres. Torres told Gambit he didn't hire anyone.

Torres has recently tried to sell the Esplanade Avenue property. He currently runs The Cove, a restart in the Bahamas. Wearing Ray Ban sunglasses and a slim black suit and skinny tie, he told Gambit he's satisfied with the terms of the agreement.

"Absolutely," he said. "My position has always been to work with Buffa's. ... I've been living there 17 years, and I know what's there now (at Buffa's) and what it used to do. ... We want Buffa's to succeed, we want musicians to play, we just want reasonable hours."

Buffa's owner Chuck Rogers said the compromise is a "good step towards resolving the whole situation."

Yesterday, Rogers told Gambit that the bar wasn't planning a continuance. He also said he had planned to install soundproofing measures before the lawsuit. This morning, Rogers said the temporary sound curtain compromise will have to make do when it's installed in the next week or so. "It's not just financing and money," Rogers said about installing soundproofing. "It's contractors, their schedules... the curtain is a good first step."

Buffa's back room bar typically hosts movie nights on Mondays, which will continue, Rogers said, as well as the fall's Monday Night Football schedule. Rogers said he had planned to schedule Antoine Diel on some of those nights, which will now be canceled. Wednesday night's open mic, which begins at 8 p.m., will be rearranged. "We're going to have to shuffle that," said attorney Tommy Milliner. "When musicians find out, they're just going to have to get there early."

Thursday's schedule gets tricky. The new agreement requires duos only — not usually a problem; it's a slot typically held by Aurora Nealand and Tom McDermott at 8 p.m. But while they're not there, other musicians fill in (on Aug. 8 is Hannah Kreiger-Benson, Amy Tail and Emily Guidry). The weekend's late late-night live music will also be rearranged, though the midnight comedy shows on Friday can continue.

Kreiger-Benson, who also represents MACCNO, said while she's glad the neighbors could reach an agreement, it shouldn't "be done on the fly in a courtroom."

"It sets a bad precedent in terms of process," she said. "Meanwhile, musicians' livelihoods could be collateral damage."

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