Embattled North Side cigar vendor boasts affluent clientele
The owner of a North Side cigar shop targeted by neighbors and police as a nuisance fought back on Thursday by doing a little celebrity name-dropping at a Pittsburgh Zoning Board hearing.
Andrew M. Lee, owner of Executive Cigars at East and Suismon streets, showed photographs of what he called notable patrons in the shop, including comedian Eddie Griffin, jazz drummer Roger Humphries, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and a smiling Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in the retail section of the shop.
“These are the people we’re asking you to allow to have the privilege to have a cigar and a drink,” said Lee, 45, of the West End. “I’m sure you can see these people aren’t rabble-rousers.”
Calls to Ravenstahl were not returned. Nutter denied ever being in the shop, though he said he met Lee briefly at a restaurant in the Strip District last week during a visit to Pittsburgh.
Lee wants a zoning change that would permit him to expand his hours and open an exclusive club where members can relax, host parties and supply their own booze.
Neighbors have complained for months that club patrons use drugs, fire guns and make noise at night and litter the streets. They want the shop shut down.
Lee said the problems occurred when he rented the upper floor to a problem tenant, whom he evicted.
His photo slide show of patrons included Police Cmdr. RaShall Brackney. Lee on Tuesday obtained a protection-from-abuse order against Brackney, claiming she has harassed and threatened him since he ended a romantic relationship with her.
Brackney denies the claims and said in a written statement yesterday that the two did not have a relationship. Her spokesman, Warner Macklin, said Brackney visited the shop in February 2011, about six months before Lee signed a lease to rent the shop’s second floor for use as an after-hours bottle club known as The Lounge.
Brackney was scheduled to testify at the hearing about police calls to the shop. She appeared but did not testify. Macklin said she remained in another room during the hearing to avoid contact with Lee.
A hearing on the PFA, a civil order that limits contact between the parties, is scheduled for Thursday. Brackney remains on duty but must turn over her service weapon at the end of each shift.
Neighbors said shop patrons made their lives “a living hell.” They said things quieted down since the bottle club closed, but urged the zoning board to deny Lee’s request based on his failure to address problems. They said customers continue to drink alcohol in the building in violation of a court order. A state police liquor control agent testified that he witnessed people drinking in the shop on two occasions in March.
“My office has been called numerous times about nude women running down the street in high heels,” Councilwoman Darlene Harris told the zoning board.
Police Officer Forrest Hodges said police received 18 nuisance complaints associated with the shop and investigated a shooting and an aggravated assault in recent months. On Feb. 19, he said, police found about 200 people in The Lounge and cited nine for various offenses.
“I sit in my living room, and I can’t even watch my television because of the groups of people out on the sidewalk,” said Harry Muschar, 54.
Lee promised that the problems are over. The zoning board will issue a decision in about two months.
“These are law professors and doctors and judges,” he said. “These are not miscreants.”