RED BANK: MEMBERS-ONLY CIGAR CLUB OK’D

22-24 w front 060116 2The club, called Le Malt, is to occupy the space previously leased to a gym, and will include a small retail cigar store accessible to the public through the front door. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

HOT-TOPIC_02A few hundred well-heeled smokers may soon have a swank hangout in downtown Red Bank, following Thursday night’s zoning board approval of a private cigar and bring-your-own-booze club.

To be called Le Malt Club, it’ll be posh, exclusive and “absolutely” odor free to residents of the nine condos above the West Front Street storefront, let alone to passersby, according to testimony.

saurabh abrol 060216Club owner Surabh Abrol testifying at the zoning board hearing. The photo in the background is from the Woodbridge restaurant he owns, also called Le Club, which is open to the public. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

Slated for the 3,000-square foot first floor at 22-24 West Front Street, the club will employ a state-of-the-art activated-carbon filtration system to remove cigar odors from a glass-walled smoking room and adjoining hallway, according to Paul Perry, a building contractor.

An oversized HVAC system “will keep the smoking lounge under negative air pressure,” he said, and with those two measures, “there is no way of any cigar smoke exiting the lounge. I can guarantee it.” Nor would smoke or odors be vented to the outdoors, he said.

The facility, which is expected to be open from 11 a.m. to 4 a.m. seven days a week, will also feature a restaurant overlooking the Navesink River for members; a “bar,” minus bartenders, where club members can drink alcohol they bring in — and store in private lockers; and a 225-square-foot retail cigar shop open to the public.

Dancing will be prohibited, and entertainment would be provided by  “sophisticated” jazz soloists and small combos, said club owner Saurabh Abrol.

Board member Kevin Moss sought assurance that the facility wouldn’t be used as a strip club. It won’t said, Abrol, adding, “I think my wife would be the first one to enforce that.”

No new parking variance was required, as the club is expected to reduce the building’s parking shortfall, to 31 spaces, from 33, according to an analysis by zoning board Engineer Ed Herrman, of T&M Associates.

Abrol, who owns an open-to-all restaurant by the same name in Woodbridge, was before the board, his attorney and a planner said, because the club is strictly neither a lounge nor a nightclub, as defined by borough ordinances, and thus needed a variance for a change of use for the space, which was originally approved for a salon and later home to a gym.

Le Club “doesn’t fit neatly into the ordinances,” said planner Christie Nazzarro Cofone.

Attorney Rick Brodsky also said Abrol was not seeking, and the board had no authority to grant or withhold, permission for the BYOB concept. While state law limits BYOB at restaurants that are open to the public to wine and beer, members of a closed club are permitted to imbibe and and store their own hard stuff on premises without authorization by either local authorities or the state Alcohol and Beverage Commission, whose jurisdiction is strictly over licensed booze, he said.

“We don’t believe there’s a restriction limiting [consumption] to beer and wine,” Brodsky told the board.

Board members and officials, apparently mindful of another West Front Street business, Lucky Break Billiards, which was shut down in a 2013 controversy over BYOB issues, were emphatic that they did not have the authority to rule on the legality of the BYOB aspect of Le Club, and were not doing so. The approval, said board Attorney Kevin Kennedy, would come with a host of conditions making that explicit. Brodsky agreed.

“You’re not giving us permission vis-a-vis alcohol,” he said. “You’re just giving us zoning permission.”

Sal DiDonato, who owns three of the building’s nine residential condo units, urged the board to approve the club.

“I’m a cigar smoker,” he said. “I definitely will be a member.”

No objections to the plan were raised by audience members, and the board’s approval was unanimous.

Afterward, Abrol told redbankgreen he hopes to open the club by the end of the year. The annual membership fee has not been established, he said.