PATERSON, NJ – Saddled with debt and more than $15,000 in unpaid fines, the owner of a controversial 6th Ward nightclub says he is calling it quits.
Mahmoud Hammad has kept the Lava Lounge on Montclair Avenue closed for the past three weeks after a Superior Court judge told him he faced possible jail time if there were any more violations at his club.
“I can’t afford to reopen,’’ Hammad said in an interview on Thursday. “I can’t even afford to hire an attorney.’’
Over the past two years, The Lava Lounge has received numerous summonses for such things as fire code violations, indoor smoking, overcrowding, and illegal alcohol sales. Neighbors frequently have complained about the club’s rowdy patrons, who they say have vandalized their property, urinated on their lawns and woke them all hours of the night with noise and fights.
On several occasions, city officials shut the club down. But it always managed to reopen. No more, said Hammad.
“I think it’s a victory for the neighborhood,’’ said 6th Ward Councilman Andre Sayegh. “I think it’s a victory for decency. He was flouting the law. He was flagrantly flouting the law.’’
In particular, Sayegh said The Lava Lounge continued to advertise music and hookah smoking even though its entertainment license had been revoked and state law forbids indoor smoking in public places.
Hammad said he would attend a Friday court hearing that’s part of the city’s ongoing enforcement efforts against the Lava Lounge, but said would do so only out of respect for the judge. “I’m punched out,’’ he said. “I’m filing bankruptcy.’’
City officials have suggested that Hammad run the business as a restaurant. But Hammad said he pays $6,500 per month to rent the building and another $3,500 on utilities. A restaurant, he said, could not cover such overhead.
Hammad said he is planning to file a lawsuit against the city, accusing officials of unfairly targeting his business. He cited as evidence a city health inspector’s emails he obtained through an Open Public Records Request that said the city needed to “stick the owner with greater consequences’’ and that “the ultimate goal is to get this place closed.’’
“You never see any establishment in the city of Paterson go through what I went through,’’ Hammad said.
He also has accused Sayegh of attacking him for political and business reasons and has suggested the councilman has tried to arrange for businesses he is friendly with to rent the location.
Sayegh said he simply was responding to residents’ complaints when he called for tougher enforcement at the club. The councilman said he met with Hammad to try to help him. “I’m a lawmaker and if he’s breaking the law, there’s only so much I can do for him,’’ Sayegh said.