In compromise, Hancock St. eatery to re-open amid extra scrutiny

An Uphams Corner restaurant plagued by a violent past could reopen soon via a compromise reached between residents and the building’s new owner.

Local civic associations representing both the Hancock St. and Jones Hill areas voted to approve a plan that would allow restaurateur Steven Bingham to reopen the former Ka Carlos Bar and Grille – but only for brunch until the community is certain that the former nightclub won’t once again become a neighborhood nuisance.

After hearing from residents, Bingham agreed to pull his initial application in favor of one stipulating a 5 p.m. close with no license for alcohol or entertainment. Dorchester City Councillor Maureen Feeney said that she appreciated Bingham’s understanding of the neighbors’ wishes and hopes that a successful restaurant can become an anchor for the neighborhood.

The compromise resolution seemed less likely earlier this month, when Bingham’s application to reopen the restaurant came before the Boston Licensing Board at City Hall on Nov. 3. At the conclusion of that hearing, Bingham agreed to meet with the Jones Hill and Hancock St. civic associations to gain their approval of a new plan before returning to the board for a decision, but not before tempers flew.

At that hearing, Feeney accused Bingham of lying to local residents about his plans for the restaurant. “At every turn, Mr. Bingham has been untruthful to the community,” Feeney said.

Feeney testified that Bingham’s license application, which requested a 2 a.m. closing time and other allowances, differed too greatly from his claims to residents that he was opening a “family restaurant” with an earlier closing time.

“She came out and straight-out called me a liar,” Bingham recalled of the hearing.

Bingham made it clear at the time that he did not like Feeney’s characterization of him and claimed that the application requested the late closing time and other questionable measures because his secretary had filled in all of the available options.

“When you file an application of course you file for everything that you could,” Bingham said this week in an interview with the Reporter.

According to Bingham, Feeney also accused him at the hearing of lacking managerial and restaurant experience. Bingham rebuts this, citing his twenty years of experience operating two Roslindale day care centers. According to Bingham, managing hair salons and working in restaurants also proves that he is an experienced manager.

Bingham said this week that Feeney also accused him of lacking a license to use the restaurant kitchen to provide meals for his day care centers and that some portions of his applications implied that he wanted to open a strip club in the residential neighborhood. Licensing Board chairman Michael Connolly said at the hearing that cooking the day care food was acceptable as long as the restaurant is not open to the public.

“It wasn’t anything personal toward Mr. Bingham” Feeney said in a follow-up interview. “It was the facts. If you can read and you can hear, you know that there was a problem here because one thing was said, something else was written and all we asked for at the licensing hearing was to know exactly what Mr. Bingham was applying for.”

Feeney said that it was gracious of Bingham to go to the civic associations’ meetings and make concessions on his proposal.

In addition to Feeney, other city officials, including the offices of Mayor Thomas Menino and City Councillor At-Large Felix Arroyo, also requested that no license be granted to Bingham until he gained the approval of the area’s residents.

“Knowing the history of this site, there was no way we were going to let that situation continue,” Feeney said.

Bingham says it could have been a mistake to file the initial application before appearing before neighborhood residents to gauge the community’s support. But he maintains that he was treated unfairly and was being “sabotaged” before he could open his restaurant and prove himself as a reputable person.

Ka Carlos was the site of a gruesome double homicide in Aug. of 2009 when a fight between some of the clubs patrons resulted in the deaths of two men - one a cook attempting the break up the altercation.

“A lot of [the criticism] is coming because of what happened with Ka Carlos, and I understand that, but if they told everybody ‘you can’t have a business because of what somebody else did,’ a lot of businesses wouldn’t be open,” Bingham said to residents at the Hancock St. meeting.

Bingham, Feeney and members of the two civic associations said they wish to revisit the licensing issue in a few months to decide whether the restaurant should be granted a beer and wine license and a later closing time.