Ali Baba Lounge Manager Plans To Address Zoning Issue
WILKES-BARRE — A tavern and a popular nightclub operating just yards from each other on South Main Street both lack proper zoning approvals, according to a city official.
City Planning and Zoning Director Bill Harris said his office received complaints that Ali Baba Lounge lacks zoning approval to operate as a nightclub, and Donahue’s Irish Pub doesn’t have approval to operate a hookah lounge.
Ali Baba manager Ali Abualburak said on Friday he’s in the process of applying for the proper zoning variance, which he didn’t know was necessary.
“I thought it was already taken care of,” Abualbarak said, showing his state liquor license, which included an entertainment permit as well as Sunday sales and extended hours food permits.
Harris said if no one from Donahue’s applies for a zoning variance soon, he’ll issue a notice of violation.
Attempts to reach the manager or owner of Donahue’s were unsuccessful.
Abualbarak said Ali Baba has held a liquor license for eight years and noted that the Liquor Control Board could revoke it or deny renewal if there were too many violations.
“Since we’ve been open, we’ve had no serious violations,” he said.
Abualbarak met with Harris in City Hall to go over the zoning application Friday morning. He plans to appear before the zoning hearing board at the next meeting slated for 4:30 p.m. Aug. 15.
“I was assuming the zoning board had already granted permission. Plenty of bars downtown have live entertainment” and didn’t have a zoning hearing, Abualbarak said.
But Harris pointed out that Ali Baba is defined as a nightclub under the city ordinance. And the ordinance requires zoning hearing board approval for nightclubs.
The ordinance defines a nightclub as an establishment that has most of its total trade in the sale of alcohol, frequently charges admission or cover charges for entertainment or music for dancing, has a capacity of more than 150 for such entertainment, and is not a sexually oriented business.
The city ordered the nightclub closed for two weeks in February after a fire code violation was reported. Some remodeling had led to the creation of a fire hazard.
Since then, Abualbarak said he had a $75,000 sprinkler system installed at the city’s request.
“We respect our city, and we respect our neighbors,” he said.
And despite some fights that originated in or near the bar as well as a shooting and a stabbing that occurred in that block within the past year, Abualbarak said he has “the safest establishment in the downtown — period.”
“Arrests happen, but that’s because our police detail takes care of any problems,” he said.
Abualbarak said he would be happy to meet with any individual or organization who has a concern or complaint about the establishment.
“No one has ever come to me with a problem,” he said.
Abualbarak said most venues work hard to find entertainers to book.
“Artists want to come to Wilkes-Barre to perform because of Ali Baba Lounge. Artists call us asking to perform. Why? Because we’re credible, we’re a good business and they feel safe with us,” he said.
The club got some bad publicity last year when it hosted Brooklyn, New York, rapper Uncle Murda, whose music calls for killing police officers, and this year after booking Tekashi 6ix9ine, who admitted to posting lewd videos of himself and a 13-year-old girl on Instagram.
After Uncle Murda’s performance, Abualburak presented $1,500 in checks to law enforcement causes, asserting that his business supported and had a great relationship with law enforcement. The 6ix9ine performance was canceled.
Abualbarak points to the numerous other acts he’s booked, proudly showing photos of rapper and Instagram sensation Cardi B performing at the lounge in 2016. She made history earlier this year as the first female rapper with two No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100. And she recently beat out Jay-Z and Beyoncé for the most MTV Music Video Award nominations this year.
“Cardi B’s career kicked off at Ali Baba Lounge,” Abualbarak said.
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