Milan suddenly lacks for Little Italy foes
When the battle between old-world neighborhood and hip restaurant-lounge finally made it to the liquor board Thursday night, only two Little Italy residents testified against Milan.
One was longtime neighborhood activist Giovanna Blatterman. The other was Michael DiCicco, who was sending complaint letters to the board even before Milan opened. Blatterman said more neighbors had planned to testify, but the hearing dragged on too long and they couldn't stick around.
Even more surprising: Blatterman told me by phone this afternoon that she wasn't all that disappointed that the board voted to renew Milan's liquor license.
"It was not our intent to hurt them, it was not our intent to close them, fine them," she said. "It was our intent to bring it out on the table and say this was going on."
By "this" Blatterman meant Milan's use of professional promoters like Jet Set Mafia, something the restaurant-lounge had explicitly promised not to employ when its liquor license was approved in July. Critics have said the promoters hype Milan as a place to party, drawing crowds that stay later, drink harder and make more noise than traditional Little Italy diners.
In a story in The Sun earlier this month, Milan owner Curlee Smittie Jr. acknowledged breaking that promise.
"We originally were not planning to work with partners, but after the first few weeks of opening, we realized that in order to attract an audience that would respect, value and appreciate the Milan experience and would also be respectful of the Little Italy community, it would be best," Smittie said in an e-mail to The Sun.
But at the hearing, Milan contended it did not go back on any promises. It acknowledged using Jet Set Mafia and GoodLife Productions to promote the place, but characterized their services as marketing. A true promoter, Milan contended, would take over the lounge for a night, run it entirely on its own, and share the proceeds with the owners.
Liquor board chairman Steve Fogleman said the distinction makes a difference.
"We're worried about temporary owners or managers," he said. "We're worried about people renting the club. ... Those are people who don’t know the neighbors, the neighborhood, local liquor laws, don’t know what restrictions might be on the license."
At the same time, Fogleman said he wasn't sure that sort of thing wasn't going on at Milan. But he said the neighbors had failed to prove that was the case.
"We're not convinced, based on the testimony, that they weren't using outside promoters, but based on the record, we didn’t have enough understanding of the difference between promoting and marketing to find by a preponderance [of evidence] that they were, in fact, outside party promoters," Fogleman said. "It was certainly a gray area raised by the licensee and his lawyer."
Blatterman said the distinction between promoters and marketers was news to her, but she is resigned to living with Milan for now.
That doesn't mean that next year at license renewal time she won't be back at the board, she added.
"By then," she said, "we will know the meaning of 'promoter.'"
The lights are still on at Milan. Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron