Karaoke Killed

Thomas MacMillan PhotoPunhon Chan said he wanted to add DJs and bouncing-ball sing-alongs to the attractions at his Elm Street bar. The neighbors said they want a little peace and quiet.

The Board of Zoning Appeals Tuesday night sided with the neighbors and shot down Chan’s application for a zoning exception to allow DJs, karaoke, and acoustic music at his bar, where bands are currently allowed.

Chan runs Elm Bar, which now occupies the site held for eight decades by Rudy’s, the storied neighborhood watering hole. While Rudy’s has found a new home at the corner of Chapel and Howe streets, Elm Bar has found success by running as an eerie simulacrum of the old Rudy’s.

Chan’s Tuesday night appearance before the Board of Zoning Appeals was not his first. A year ago, he petitioned the board for permission to serve drinks on the patio at Elm Bar. Things got personal when the neighbors objected and Chan pulled out Facebook photos to try to discredit his detractors.

On Tuesday night, one of Chan’s detractors returned, but the Facebook photos did not.

Chan told zoners he didn’t understand why he should be allowed to have a jukebox, but not a DJ. Live bands, but not karaoke. “I don’t see the difference,” he said.

“The difference is speakers,” said board member Victor Fasano. “That’s our concern.”

“If noise is the issue,” Chan said, DJ speakers are quieter than heavy metal bands. He said he put in a sound-blocking curtain last March.

Speaking in favor of the proposal was Josh Philie, a local musician, who said the permission would create a good opportunity for local DJs.

Rose Martin said she works at the bar and DJ and karaoke nights would increase her income. She said she’s a single mom. “I’m in favor.”

Speaking in opposition were Martin and Andrea Hallier. They own 115 Howe St., which abuts the rear of Elm Bar. Martin said bar noise is a problem. It goes until 1 or 2 a.m. and tenants call and complain to him, he said. “It’s out of control.”

The alley behind the bar is also the scene of public urination and vomiting, Martin said. “It’s disgusting.”

Andrea said their building has a vacant first-floor apartment that she said she’s not going to be able to rent with the noise the way it is. “What am I going to tell my tenant at 11:30 at night?”

Rex Gilliland, who tangled with Chan during his previous visit to the Board of Zoning Appeals, also complained about the noise. He lives across the street from the bar. He said the bar already has DJs who are just as loud as the live bands.

“I think there’s a problem with the sound in the neighborhood,” Fasano said later, when it came time for the board to vote. “I think he’s got to make do with what he has.”

The board voted unanimously to deny Chan’s application.

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posted by: streever on December 14, 2011  10:29am

I think this was a bit of a specious decision.

It just sounds very arbitrary. What is the difference between karaoke and a live band? Is a live band actually more quiet than a karaoke night?

posted by: Bruce on December 14, 2011  10:33am

From the city noise ordinance (section 93.46)
Exemptions (H)  Sounds associated with normal conduction of a legally established non-transient business when such sounds are customary, incidental and within the normal range appropriate for such use.

Clearly Rudy’s/Elm Bar, which has been featuring live music for many decades, meets this criteria.  Why do they need an exception for DJs?  I am all for peace and quiet in my neighborhood—that’s why I chose not to live next door to a music venue.  Don’t punish the arts community for your bad decision.

The ban on DJs seems arbitrary.  If they want to keep volume below a certain level, you can measure and regulate that with a sound meter—don’t start dictating what TYPE of music will be featured.  Many bands (currently approved) feature recorded loops within the context of their performance. Hip hop artists often perform to pre-recorded tracks.  Will this also be forbidden?  Is someone going to start tweaking the knobs on stage so that the performers meet the appropriate criteria?

I wish I was there to testify.  This is ridiculous.  New Haven artists and residents have enough trouble making ends meet—don’t kill one of the few successful businesses that helps to make New haven the arts center that it claims to want to be.  Now people are threatening the income of a single mother because they prefer one form of music to another.

posted by: streever on December 14, 2011  10:42am

Bruce—exactly. Zoning decisions should be based on objective facts, not on arbitrary designations.

While I appreciate Fasano’s desire to make neighbors happy, I don’t think it is appropriate to make a zoning decision to revise history.

I may be wrong—there may be a specific difference in the zoning ordinance between karaoke and live amplified music—but if that is the case, the ordinance is broken and should be altered.

In general, zoning ordinances shouldn’t be open to such arbitrary decision-making.

posted by: CT Liberal on December 14, 2011  11:34am

So many errors by the Board.

1. “Speakers” are not the difference.  Live bands use speakers (called amplifiers). 

2. Live bands are uniformly louder than recorded music (which is professionally mixed and can be controlled by the DJ), and far louder than Karaoke, where the music has to be low enough so people can hear the singer.  Once you allow live bands, DJs and karaoke should be allowed de-facto if noise level is your only measurement.

3. Public urination and vomiting have nothing to do with the issue.  General noise from the operation of a bar has nothing to do with the issue.

All in all, the members of the Board were unanimously incompetent.

posted by: SouthWest on December 14, 2011  1:21pm

For people who have never did karaoke,its a lot quieter than a band. Band’s has numerous instruments which can be very loud. Karaoke is one singer at a time that sing alone with their favorite tune. To all you naysayers don’t knock it util you try it. My suggestion is don’t move next to a bar if you are looking for a quite environment,especially when you no the bar has been there for 30 years or more. Why are you moving there and wanting to change the whole neighborhood to benefit your desires.

posted by: LG on December 14, 2011  2:41pm

Fact check that Rudy’s was around for eight decades—its sign might have been, but the bar was not.

posted by: Downtown worker on December 14, 2011  3:17pm

Its pretty lame that the old Rudy’s patrons are still holding onto the past, and their bitterness and spite, that they would resort such levels just to thwart the plans of the new Elm bar. It seems pretty clear that the Elm bar is trying to steer towards a quieter music style, and rather than be supported by the neighbors for trying to make the neighborhood better, the old Rudy’s crowd jumps in and stops them. In the end, they actually hurt themselves by encouraging the Loud amplified bands, and not the more user friendly DJ nights and acoustic acts…good ole New Haven for ya! While we are at it, lets put in some midnight parking meters…oh wait!

posted by: Mark on December 14, 2011  5:05pm

This is just childish.Let the bar be. If it’s such a s… place than it will fail under it’s own devices. Don’t be a bully or a hypocrite.

posted by: adriane on December 14, 2011  6:17pm

Elm bar is NOT the only source of noise in the neighborhood. The Yale undergrad housing in the area creates the majority of the late night traffic and illegal activity- like underage drinking. The presence of a local business actually makes the area a lot safer than neighboring crime areas. The block is under 24 hour police presence and camera surveillance. If the behavior of patrons does not warrant police action, then Rex Gilliand cannot enforce his own standards. Without the Elm Bar as an established business, the block would descend into urban blight. This zoning battle is not about noise pollution. It is part of a long history of New Haven small businesses battling the city and Yale for existence. It would be interesting to dig deeper and find out who or what party would benefit from acquiring the location and how they are influencing the board. There is a broader picture of businesses losing space in the area that can give a few clues. Remember the Daily!

posted by: Enough already on December 14, 2011  6:41pm

OK, then get rid of the jukebox and the bands. We’re certainly sorry if we’re trampling on your right to be obnoxious and keep the whole neighborhood up until 2 am. Go pee on your own front lawn.

posted by: adriane on December 14, 2011  6:47pm

Support Elm Bar and tell the city you disagree! with this unfair decision. get your voice heard by calling;

Board of Zoning Appeals
Thomas Talbot, Deputy Director of Zoning,
203 946-8237

posted by: Mark on December 14, 2011  7:01pm

If you don’t want noise than don’t live next to or near:
Railroad tracks
ReRestaurants4 hour stores
Schools (yes I said that twice)

Seriously. There are two bars on this street who’s hosting locations have served as bars or resturaunts for years (box 63 and elm) and what about all the BS that surrounds the two pizza places that are open till three am? Don’t be such miserable bitches. Move. I did. I used RO live across from the ferry street bridge and the constant bridge alarm (which malfunctioned for six months) would not stop at 5am.
The people in this city that have a right to complains are the ones that live near that construction sight adjacent To Wooster.

posted by: Bill Saunders on December 14, 2011  7:43pm

This poor decision is about personal agendas. 
What were the real metrics used to strike down this minor exception??

In the absence of real data, this decision is just about a bunch of complainers getting their way.

posted by: Rose Martin on December 14, 2011  8:17pm

“Enough Already”, we will NOT get rid of our jukebox or bands. We are a bar! You should have checked out the neighborhood before moving in and complaining about a neighborhood that includes bars, frat houses, multiple student houses that host loud parties, restaurants that stay open past bar close, busy streets, etc. No one from our bar is pissing on your lawn. We have bathrooms. Furthermore, just because you can’t shut down every frat house in the neighborhood, it doesn’t mean you can just transfer every complaint about noise and partying onto us. We are the least of your worries.

In the year that we have been open as Elm Bar, the establishment has become MUCH less rowdy than when it was Rudy’s, yet all these complaints are just now popping up….hmmmm. Could it be a personal and petty vendetta against the new owners? ... I used to frequent Rudy’s as well and Elm Bar is by far a better neighbor to you. We have put up sound-proofing and do not have drinking on our patio past 11pm. Not to mention that the permit we were applying for was for quieter forms of entertainment than we currently are allowed to have!

I appreciate peace and quiet as much as the next person. That’s why I don’t live downtown next to a bar, frat houses, etc, etc, etc. I actually looked at several apartments near Elm Bar and decided it would be a poor decision to move into a noisy, largely student occupied, neighborhood.

posted by: RIP Leo on December 14, 2011  9:02pm

Elm Bar is located in a residential neighborhood, and my feeling is that the bar shouldn’t be allowed to make noise without concern for others.

Frankly, if neighbors were more tolerant of the historic institution which was Rudy’s, that makes sense. Rudy’s had been there for 75 years, well before anyone else. But how does it follow that they should show the same benevolence to this new, [...] enterprise?

For the record, even Rudy’s accepted noise limitations when dealing with the neighborhood. And nothing wrong with neighboring property owners standing up for their rights!

posted by: adriane on December 14, 2011  9:22pm

^^That’s funny, because Leo sure enjoyed Elm Bar everyday and we made plenty of joyfulnoise together there before he passed away. Where the hell where you? How dare you drag the name of someone who is passed away through the mud. Identify yourself and don’t you dare hide behind Leo’s name without his permission….

posted by: Downtown Worker on December 14, 2011  11:35pm

I think you are missing the point here. Elm Bar was trying to have the right to have acts in their Bar that are actually quieter and more Neighborhood friendly, but local “Old Rudy’s” supporters painted that attempt in the wrong light to thwart their aspirations to have acoustic acts and jazz. They made it sound like this would add to the noise, instead of replacing the louder amplified acts which are currently ALLOWED and will now continue to be the only acts this place can host.So essentially, in order to spite the Elm Bar, they just added to the problem. Well done.

posted by: Rose Martin on December 14, 2011  11:39pm

assignWhy SHOULDN’T we be afforded the same benevolence that was shown Rudy’s, is the question, “RIP Leo”? (By the way, Leo loved coming and having coffee with me and all his friends at Elm Bar, before he was put in a home by the very people who now own his house and are opposing Elm Bar’s permits.) Kind of eery, actually.

Elm Bar DOES accept noise limitations and we operate within the city’s sound ordinance.

From the city noise ordinance (section 93.46)
Exemptions (H)  Sounds associated with normal conduction of a legally established non-transient business when such sounds are customary, incidental and within the normal range appropriate for such use.

There is nothing wrong with us standing up for our rights either. Like I said, Elm Bar is being scapegoated for the noise of the entire neighborhood, of which we contribute a small and expected amount for a bar with live music. It is not out of control in any way. If this were a legit noise complaint, and not a personal vendetta by former patrons of old Rudy’s, it could have easily been handled in a mature way- like meeting with the owners of Elm Bar to discuss more sound-proofing and reasonable compromises. Not showing up at our hearings to oppose a permit for quieter forms of entertainment than we currently have. That’s just asinine.

posted by: Brian M. on December 14, 2011  11:47pm

More proof that you’re crazy to try to open a business in this town.

If you hate noise, why on earth would you buy a house behind a bar? And why single out a karaoke bar?

Totally arbitrary. If you live in a downtown, why would you expect it to be as quiet as the countryside? No wonder the vacancy rate is so high.

posted by: sf on December 15, 2011  1:14am

I, too, was sad to hear that Rudy’s would no longer be Rudy’s.  Sometimes change sucks, but it still happens.  Our emotions and nostalgia are irrelevant when it comes to this matter.
I also find it outrageously hypocritical that the Hallier’s are now using their property as a justification for their opposition.  I’d like to know how many complaints they bothered to file when they were everyday regulars at the establishment when it was still Rudy’s (which was not any quieter by any means). 

posted by: Jo on December 15, 2011  1:18am

Strange and absurd to reject karaoke and acoustic music, which are wholesome and not usually rowdy. Elm Bar is small, old and intimate.  Great people work there, including former patrons of the old Rudy’s who have continued the tradition of live music and serve tacos instead of frites. The new Rudy’s on Chapel is a large, busy restaurant with an extensive menu and a space for bands in the back. Surely there is room in New Haven for the both the old and the new. Elm Bar deserves permission to host quieter events. DJ’s can turn down the volume. Karaoke is fun. Acoustic music is wonderful. Surely the neighbors should be pleased.

posted by: Rose Martin on December 15, 2011  1:34am

Yes, bravo Elm Bar haters. We now ONLY have a permit for amplified music. Our budget only allows for 3 shows a week, so now you have ensured that all 3 nights will be live, amplified bands instead of perhaps a comedy night, and acoustic night and an amplified band once a week, presumably Saturday night. In your attempt to thwart our success in a competitive bar industry under the pretense of a noise complaint, you have ensured that all the shows we can have will be bands. Okay. On with the shows!

posted by: Bill Saunders on December 15, 2011  3:11am

Rock It, Rose!!!!  Great Post.

If somebody has the gall to incorporate Leo’s name into some sort of anonymous moniker, then I must ask the question….

What would Leo do????

Maybe somebody can elucidate.

posted by: Mark on December 15, 2011  11:11am

Didn’tLeo live next door?

Also, I forgot to add to my previous post:
Schools (yeah, I really hate them)
Frat houses
Dog owners
Any main roadway/ state route
Fire station
Police station
Ambulance hub
Farmers market

IIsn’this list getting quite long? Maybe that’s why there’s a thing called zoning and you should contact the local municipality that you’re moving to to find out which neighborhood is zoned to your preference.

Also, my previous post is not a good advertisement for the iPhone :-/

posted by: Lynette on December 15, 2011  5:04pm

Damn it I wanted to do Karaoke and see comedy!! Friends of Rudy’s that are trying to hinder the Elm Bar, just stop. People work here to make a living so they can take care of themselves and their families. Who are you to try to make it difficult!! I went to Rudy’s all the time, I go to the Elm Bar all the time. It is MUCH quieter then Rudy’s ever was. If you like Rudy’s and you support them great go there. You are NOT going to put Elm Bar out of business by not letting them have a DJ. The fact is that people go to the Elm because they like it there! They like the people that work there (and thank you too all of the GREAT people that work there).  They go for taco night, they go for inexpensive yummy food. They go because they want to. Not just for music, I love the music and I am pretty bummed that this got shot down but ya know what, I am still going to the Elm Bar.  If you want to talk about noise, go take a walk down Frat Row. Go take a walk down Crown Street. Now that is noise!! Guess what people live there…it is a city. YOU want to talk about public urination and vomiting….walk down Crown or stand out front of A-1 Pizza on Broadway or Yorkside between the hours of 1 and 3 in the morning. Again I will say thank you too all the hard working people at the Elm, keep up the good work see you soon!!

posted by: lance on December 15, 2011  8:59pm

I’m wondering, do all of these dj’s declare their income when filing state and local income tax, or when applying for and recieving   government assistance?  Do the bar owners notify the appropriate revenue services of money paid to these entertainers?  The owners of these residential units pay huge property taxes in New Haven, and they deserve the opportunity to recoup the investment they’ve made not only in the property, but in the city as well. 

The tennants have a right to quiet enjoyment of their abodes, and I’m glad the board recognized that.

posted by: Bruce on December 16, 2011  10:31am

Lance, I believe the answer is “yes” in many cases but not all.  Many professional DJs and especially Karaoke DJs are booked through a professional service where they are paid above the board and probably get a 1099.  As a musician who has played at Rudys many times, I can tell you that the amount of money you make is completely inconsequential (I was lucky to get $50). 

What IS consequential is the amount of property taxes that Elm Bar pays on its building, kitchen equipment, bar stools, etc.—much more than any of the neighbors in that area.  But I don’t believe that your voice in government should be proportional to the money you pay.  Elm bar has a long history of providing entertainment and hiring DJs is clearly no more of a burden on the neighborhood than the existing entertainment.  The neighbors are just holding a grudge and the board should not have sided with them.

posted by: Andi Hallier on December 16, 2011  1:56pm

@Rose - you were present at the hearing when we made our concerns regarding the expansion of the already non-conforming use clear. As you know, The City Planner, prior to the hearing, issued a recommendation against that expansion.  The Zoning Board of Appeals vote denying the expansion was unanimous.  We bear no grudge against the Elm Bar.  To the contrary, we were instrumental in allowing the Elm Bar to open its doors, by allowing emergency egress through our property.  Perhaps you should research the facts surrounding our acquisition of 115 Howe Street, nearly a decade ago, before you impugn our motivation for protecting our tenants’ rights?  More importantly, you should choose your words VERY carefully when questioning our decision to put “Leo in a home.”  That decision was made in conjunction with his family, medical and other social services providers, and was in Leo’s best interest.

posted by: Bruce on December 16, 2011  2:59pm

Rudys was raging 10 years ago when you bought that property.  They had live music seven nights a week that played until 1 or 2am!

posted by: Andi Hallier on December 16, 2011  8:06pm

True.  But Leo was deaf.  Going forward, I would suggest we all respect Leo’s memory.  As for vilifying me, that’s up for grabs.

posted by: Rose Martin on December 16, 2011  9:31pm

Are you asking if DJs hired by Elm Bar report their $30…oh wait, we don’t have DJs…sort of…what..this whole…discussion is about. hmm.

Are you conducting a survey of ALL the bars in New Haven who DO have DJs and are located near apartments owned by people who pay property taxes? Because if you are, Rudy’s has DJ-ed dance parties all the time and there are people living in apartments all around that bar. Come to think of it, those people probably lived there before it was turned into a bar. (It wasn’t one up until this year, unlike Elm Bar which has been operating as a bar for decades.) Interesting. You should look into that.

posted by: Andi Hallier on December 17, 2011  12:27am

@Bruce - yes, but at the time, Leo lived there, and he was more that slightly deaf.

posted by: Bill Saunders on December 20, 2011  4:12am


Whether Leo was deaf or not, that does not matter to the ZBA.
Stop using Leo’s memory as a shield.