Decisions are expected soon over Paul Tsouflidis' attempt to expand the Acropolis and add a nightclub atmosphere, with disc jockeys, to the formerly low-key Elmwood Avenue fixture.
Common Council Member Michael J. LoCurto of the Delaware District expects the Council to decide in the next two weeks whether the owner can add a bar, restaurant space and patio to the second floor, while a city agency is expected to render a decision on a music license by next Tuesday.
The issue has festered for some time. Critics say Tsouflidis flouted zoning restrictions and has been dismissive of residents' concerns about loud music. Tsouflidis maintains he has been the victim of unreasonable demands and is not being given a fair shake by LoCurto, whom he has criticized on his blog. The restaurant owner said he also has more than 1,000 signatures of support.
LoCurto, whose vote in the Council is expected to carry the most weight on this issue since he represents the Elmwood strip, said he saw no problem adding restaurant space and expected the patio to be approved as long as it closes by a certain hour.
But the lawmaker said that adding a second bar could open the door to a "Chippewa-style nightclub" on Elmwood. He also said Tsouflidis, 37, has lost credibility after backing out of an agreement made with residents over music restrictions, and by failing to secure necessary permits in the past, such as the music license he was supposed to have when he began using DJs more than a year ago.
"I just think he's burned a lot of bridges," LoCurto said.
Tsouflidis said that before being notified he was in violation, he believed that he only needed music licenses from two music publishers, but not the city. He has been unable to play music since the beginning of the year while his application is pending for a "mechanical license," which would allow DJs without the use of microphones, and not live music, which he earlier sought.
"I'm pumping $400,000 into the place, and I didn't know that I needed a $56 music license. My bar business is down 40 percent since Jan. 1 without music. Who's going to go to a bar without music?" Tsouflidis said.
His investment, which will more than double the seating capacity from 40 to 85, includes $5,000 for a second bar he said he wants to service the upstairs floor for private parties and make it safer for the wait staff to bring drinks to customers.
"We're a 30-year business that has paid taxes and is being treated with selective enforcement," Tsouflidis said. "I'm really upset with [LoCurto]. He has really impacted my business in a negative way. He has said for the record that he will kill the bar, so that pretty much kills my dream restaurant."
What that "dream restaurant" would be has been at the center of the dispute.
In a video that Tsouflidis appeared in last year, the voice-over says, "Come in and enjoy Acropolis after hours in our sexy, Euro atmosphere with live DJs and the hottest bartenders."
That's a far cry from the working-class Greek restaurant with counter service that his parents, John and Effe, who are still involved, ran from its opening in 1982 until a couple of years ago.
Tsouflidis, who lived on the second floor from age 10 until two years ago, said the video was created to change the restaurant's image.
"That was me trying to build a nightlife here, because Acropolis for 28 years was closed at 8 o'clock. I accomplished that," said Tsouflidis, who took over the Acropolis in 2010.
Some have accused the owner of acting in bad faith. Neighborhood resident Dan Sack said Acropolis intentionally had its liquor application go unnoticed by placing public notices required by the State Liquor Authority only in the Front Page, published in Lackawanna, and the South Buffalo News.
Tsouflidis said he hired someone who works with bars to take care of liquor applications, and denied knowing where the notices appeared.
Richard Clapper, a longtime resident of Ashland Avenue, is one of a number of residents who say their quality of life was adversely effected last year when the music started up, and are wary of Tsouflidis' plans.
"I'm in favor of [Tsouflidis] expanding his restaurant business, but changing its character to a bar and nightclub is a different use," Clapper said.
Heather Connor said she was forced to move from her next-door apartment, above Elmwood Pet Shop, because vibrations from bass and drums made it difficult to sleep. She said there were also problems with unruly behavior outside the club, and she was met with a "dismissive" and "hostile" reaction when she complained.
Tsouflidis said he has taken several steps, from reducing the number of speakers and pointing them away from Ashland Avenue to getting rid of a subwoofer that boosted the bass. There are several Elmwood restaurants with bar businesses that use DJs, including Epic and Toro, and he insists he should be allowed to, as well.
For that reason, Tsouflidis said he won't accept restrictions on how late he can stay open or when he can play music, which he briefly agreed to in January.
"I am doing everything I can to make sure my place is noise-friendly. I'm not going to blast people out of their sleep, but I should be able to have DJs and music in accordance with the law," he said.
John T. Kolaga, president of Elmwood Village Association, said any outcome must result in a level of volume that is acceptable to residents.
"We don't want there to be lingering and hostile feelings between Paul and his neighbors," Kolaga said. "We welcome his investment there and would like to see others make investments like he has. But we would also like to see an explicit recognition of the concerns others have, and parameters set by Paul that recognizes that so everyone can live together."
James W. Comerford, commissioner of permits and inspections, said the mechanical music license that would allow DJs in the Acropolis to play prerecorded music without a microphone by next week, would only be good for downstairs for now.
"If there are complaints, then we will cross that bridge when we come to it," Comerford said, suggesting the department could get a meter to determine what sound level was permissible in such a case.