It's unhappy hour at 3 W. Phila. bars

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Noel Karasanyi stands at the door of his West Philadelphia bar, the New 3rd World Lounge.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Noel Karasanyi stands at the door of his West Philadelphia bar, the New 3rd World Lounge.
Posted: September 17, 2013

FOR THREE decades, Noel Karasanyi ran the New 3rd World Lounge and his two other West Philly bars without any problems, he said.

Then the "immigrants" started coming. "And they weren't immigrants from foreign countries," he said.

They were young, predominantly white students and professionals who moved into West Philadelphia, and who he said are targeting his bars instead of patronizing them.

Karasanyi's spokesman, Tommie St. Hill, said he knows what's behind the efforts of the Spruce Hill Association and other neighborhood groups to get Karasanyi's bars closed.

"We think there's racism involved in this, because bars in the same neighborhood, they're not going after them," St. Hill said. "Who died and left Spruce Hill in charge of the entire United States?"

Barry Grossbach, chair of the Spruce Hill Association's zoning committee, called the charge of racism "an old canard." West Philly welcomes diversity, he said, but not "a nuisance bar."

"Some people are going to look at this and think the neighborhood has undergone a level of improvement; they call it gentrification. You have a changing demographic, so suddenly an establishment operated by a black entrepreneur is targeted," Grossbach said. "That is just not the case. All we ask is [that] everybody abide by the norms of civility."

Karasanyi's three bars have been investigated by the State Police's Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement and the city's Licenses & Inspections, Revenue and Streets departments.

Here's what happened just last week: L&I closed his Watusi, at 46th and Walnut streets, for alleged failure to have a valid food license; the Revenue Department shuttered his Watusi II, at Locust and 45th streets, for alleged failure to pay back taxes; and the New 3rd World, at 49th and Catharine streets and Baltimore Avenue, was notified it has until Saturday to renew its food license, or it will be closed, too.

In January, police said, a fight spilled out of the New 3rd World and a gunman fired 10 shots into a crowd, but no one was hit. At the end of last month, three people were shot outside the Watusi.

"Those people are not my patrons," Karasanyi said.

According to court records, Karasanyi has been sued in Philadelphia civil court at least 24 times by loan companies, the school district, vendors and the city of Philadelphia.

Soft-spoken owner

Inside the New 3rd World Lounge, Karasanyi's small frame is illuminated by strings of green and blue lights around the bar. He is soft-spoken and unassuming.

Karasanyi came to Philly from Uganda in 1973 to attend Temple University. In 1982, he opened his first bar and called it the New 3rd World "because my relatives are from Third World countries," he said. He opened the Watusi in 1985 and the Watusi II two years later.

Neighbors say the exterior of the New 3rd World has deteriorated, affecting its surroundings.

"I think you can tell from the appearance of the building, this is not someone with a sense of pride or community," said Amara Rockar.

"It's a pig sty here from this bar," said John Iaecchia. "People are trying to improve the neighborhood, everybody's fixing up their houses, and this guy is doing less than nothing."

Karasanyi said the recession prevented him from renovating.

"I see a lot of business associates and neighbors improving, and it pleases me that Baltimore Avenue is changing," Karasanyi said. "When I first opened, people asked me why I opened here. Nobody knows what I've gone through. I was part of the success of this neighborhood, too."

Karasanyi owes more than $37,000 in real-estate taxes on the Watusi II and said he owes business taxes - which are not public record - on the Watusi and the Watusi II.

"I want to pay my taxes, if I have the money," Karasanyi said. "I feel it's unfair for the community organizations to target someone for unpaid taxes."

But neighbors say that public urination, drug use, illegal dumping, loud noise and after-hours serving also occur at Karasanyi's bars.

Karasanyi , who lives in Yeadon, Delaware County, denies those allegations.

State investigations

The State Police's Liquor Control Enforcement bureau has issued numerous citations for alleged offenses at Karasanyi's bars ranging from loud music to health and record-keeping violations, Sgt. Dan Steele said.

The New 3rd World also has a "significant history of sales after hours," Steele said. Karasanyi pleaded guilty to serving after hours in both 2012 and 2013, according to court records.

Karasanyi said that serving after hours was "just an oversight."

Neighbors of the Watusi II say it has no garbage bins. Karasanyi said it had a Dumpster until a few months ago, when he got fed up.

"I kept getting tickets from the city because it was overflowing," he said. "Some of the people who are accusing me of putting trash on the sidewalk put their trash in my Dumpster."

According to the Streets Department, Karasanyi has been issued 52 citations for trash violations at his three bars in the past three years.

Karasanyi also has a collection of L&I citations. He has open citations at both Watusi bars, and last week inspectors at the New 3rd World found unlicensed electrical contractors doing work without permits, said L&I spokeswoman Rebecca Swanson.

L&I also has notified Karasanyi that he will be cited for boarded-up doors and windows at the New 3rd World and the Watusi II, when a new ordinance goes into effect next month, Swanson said.

Karasanyi said the windows have always been boarded because of loud music, "out of consideration for the neighbors."

Grossbach said neighbors have been able to work with owners of other bars, but not with Karasanyi. When residents expressed fear of standing up to Karasanyi, the Spruce Hill Association held a community meeting last month with the Walnut Hill Association and several city agencies to discuss problems at the Watusi II.

"The District Attorney's Office is reviewing all information on all liquor establishments owned by Noel Karasanyi to determine what our next course of action will be," said Beth Grossman, head of the office's Public Nuisance Task Force, who attended the meeting.

Karasanyi said he'll work hard to keep open the one bar the city hasn't shut yet and to pay off the taxes on the other two.

"It's like having a marriage: You try to work things out," he said. "I'm still hoping things will get better."


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Online: ph.ly/crime

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