In Good Faith: M2 Owner Reacts to Smoking Closure

As early as this Thursday, Administrative Judge Alessandra F. Zorgniotti will decide the fate of M2 nightclub. The lunacy of the smoking crackdown has begun. Whether the city will be allowed to close M2 and half a dozen other places (to start) is to be determined. It’s a circus that puts the livelihood of over 300 employees at risk and threatens a $6 million investment, not to mention $2 million in tax revenue enjoyed by our metropolis each year. I caught up with M2 owner Joey Morrissey and got his perspective.

What happens if you lose this thing? If we don’t get the result we want, then we will appeal to a higher court.

Why are you talking to me now as a decision looms? The health department has been running a PR campaign accusing us of blatantly disregarding the law. This is not true.

How is it going? Well, a health department official was just caught lying on the stand, and Judge Zorgniotti said some things in a cleared courtroom that indicated she wasn’t going to close the business down.

Tell me about the health inspector lying on the stand. He said he didn’t enter the premises, which isn’t true. On January 7, two undercover inspectors tried to enter M2. At that time of night, we only let in people we know very well or people who are willing to buy bottles, spend a lot of money.

Many clubs do that. Letting in strangers late at night can be risky as they are often drunk and/or desperately looking for women. It can negatively impact the dynamics of a night that is going well. So these two didn’t get in, and the inspector came over and showed his badge and walked the other guys in. He said, on the stand, that he went back to his car, when in fact he proceeded to go inside with my head of security. He went up to the mezzanine level, which was not open that night; he told my security guy to turn off his radio so he wouldn’t alert staff. From up there he could observe the whole room. He saw some people light up, but in a few moments security approached them and asked them to put it out. This happened a couple of times, and even though he said he never entered the premises, he filed a report — which we obtained — that said there were no violations. The health department said they couldn’t find this report, but we got a copy. On subsequent visits the health department said that they saw three smokers when we had a thousand people in the building. Another night we had 1,500 people in, and they saw three smokers; another night when we had 1,800 people, they saw five people smoking, and on the gay night, “Alegria,” when we had over a 1,000 people they saw four people in four hours.

How many security guards do you have, and what other anti-smoking measures do you take? We have anywhere from 40 to 60 security guards. We have over 60 “No Smoking” signs; we have security briefings where the importance of enforcement is discussed vigorously, and we provide a smoking area. When we called 311 to ask if they could send a cop to write tickets to patrons who violate, the lady told us they would just come over and write a ticket against the establishment.

If they would actually go in and write a $300 fine to patrons, word would get out pretty fast and the public would stop. Yes. At Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, Yankee Stadium or on the subway, that’s what happens. They don’t ticket Yankee Stadium, just the fans.

Doesn’t the law say you must make a good-faith effort to stop smoking? Good faith means you’re in compliance. That’s right. If we weren’t doing our job, it would be like the old days when half the place was smoking. We hired a court-approved monitoring service to observe our security to see if they were doing a good job. They are unbiased and testified that we have made a good-faith effort.

That sounds like case closed. We think so.

You took over the biggest joint in the city that had just failed as Mansion, and before that as Crobar and Mezmor. I believe you turned it around in a failing economy. We pay over $2 million a year to the city in real estate and sales tax, plus we employ over 300 people. I put $6 million into this place; there will never be a place like it opened again. Who would invest that much money in a place if the city can close it just like that? Who’s going to risk it?

What is the atmosphere like? Very hostile in the beginning … seems like they were under pressure to find fault and never notice how good of a job we were doing.

Photo: Patrick McMullan

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