By day, Watusi Pub II is an unassuming, dilapidated property at the corner of 45th and Locust. By night, residents say it’s a full-fledged nuisance bar.
Several neighbors told us the music blasts until after 2 a.m. They said outside the bar, rowdy patrons scream at each other, or into their phones.
Basel Syrawan, who lives next door to the bar, said he’s learned to deal with the noise. He puts on some music and tries to drown out the pulsing bass. But yeah, he said, it’s a problem.
“If you had trouble sleeping,” he said, “it’d make you go insane.”
And though the bar recently stopped hosting live music acts on Wednesdays, neighbor Jeanne Chang said it felt like the band was jamming in her living room.
Other neighbors, who didn’t want to be named for fear of retribution, said the bar’s patrons leave the bar to move their cars out of two-hour parking spots – after a couple of hours of drinking.
The bar owner, Noel Karasanyi, has other issues: according to the Office of Property Assessment, he hasn’t paid his real estate taxes on the property since 1996 and owes the city nearly $70,000. According to Municipal Court records, the city has also taken him to court numerous times in the last decade because of a failure to pay liquor taxes, business privilege taxes and wage taxes.
Karasanyi owns two other bars in the neighborhood, Watusi and The New Third World Lounge. In 2007, Philadelphia Weekly reported that Karasanyi owed almost $30,000 in property taxes for the New Third World Lounge. Neighbors were so fed up with the noise, violence and littering around the bar that they raised money to send the property to sheriff sale. (A property is eligible for sheriff’s sale if it has at least $2,500 in liens. Anyone can put up the $800 refundable deposit to start the sale.) According to city records, the taxes have since been paid.
The two times we visited, Watusi II was quiet. The bar across the street, Fiume, was much louder on one night. But Syrawan told us Watusi’s ruckus is more consistent.
We did spot a woman leaving Watusi II, plastic cup in hand. As she pulled out of her parking spot, she bumped the cab parked behind her.
Inside the bar, there’s a laidback feel. When the music’s on, it is loud; we had to shout to carry on a conversation. But the patrons say it’s a bar, after all.
“We ain’t bothering nobody,” says a man named J.B. who’s been coming here since the late ‘80s. “We’re just having a drink and having fun.”
The owner, Karasanyi, said he stopped the live performances in response to neighbor complaints. But for the most part, he thinks the objections are not valid and fueled by racism (when we went to the bar, many patrons were black).
As for the back taxes, Karasanyi said he is “making arrangements” to pay them.
Will anything be done? We set out to see if anyone at the city planned to take action on Watusi II. The bar is definitely on the city’s radar. There have been six calls to the police about it so far this year, said 18th District Lt. Brian Sprowal, with complaints ranging from disorderly conduct to loud music. Sprowal said he tells officers to issue noise violations, which carry fines.
Last November, Licenses and Inspections actually shut Watusi II down. The Revenue Department had flagged the bar for non-payment of taxes, so L&I prevented Watusi II from renewing its food license, said L&I spokeswoman Maura Kennedy. Watusi II was allowed to open back up in December because Karasanyi entered into a payment agreement, Kennedy said.
L&I still has an open case against Karasanyi for property maintenance issues, including fire code violations. Kennedy said the department is waiting for a court date since Karasanyi has yet to comply.
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell said she’s heard that both Watusi I and II are nuisances. After we called, she said she reminded Karasanyi that his bar and its patrons must respect the neighborhood. She’s known Karasanyi for a long time, she said. According to campaign finance records, Karasanyi donated $1,000 to Blackwell last December, shortly after Licenses and Inspections allowed his bar to re-open.
Just when we were about to give up… It seemed like no city agency was going to take action on Watusi II anytime soon. But then the Revenue Department told us Karasanyi had broken his payment agreement. The Law Department is now taking steps to bring the property to Sheriff sale, and it should be listed in June or July.
So the problem should be gone by summer. Between now and then, if the bar is a nuisance? Keep calling the cops, said Lt. Sprowal.
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