Updated Feb. 6, 2020. 4:10 p.m.
Philadelphia’s beloved LGBTQ sports bar Boxers PHL has closed its doors, at least for now, due to a liquor license dispute. A sign was posted on their door and on Facebook providing limited details.
“It is with heavy hearts that we announce Boxers PHL is officially closed due to hate. Hate has won today. Hate has motivated a well-connected wealthy man named David Singer who had made it his top priority for several years to close down this staple Gay bar in the heart of the Gayborhood. David Singer stopped the transfer of our liquor license from the former owners to a young entrepreneur.”
Singer is a principal owner at Michael Singer Real Estate. He told PGN, “It’s untrue and mean what Boxers said,” adding, “I was one of the original members of the historic and iconic 12th Street Gym, which I miss to this very day. I was a customer of Boxers. I have been in that restaurant and had beers in that restaurant. I have enjoyed my time there. I’m happy for Boxers to continue to operate. I just have a concern that the new applicant has City of Philadelphia health violations like any other neighbor would be concerned.”
Over the last few months, Boxers PHL has been in the midst of an ownership change, contingent upon the transfer of the establishment’s liquor license; 1330 Walnut Partners LLC was in the process of selling the bar to Imer Dedja. Imer’s son, Tim (Prentim) Dedja said he is the liquor license transferee but is listed as “manager” on Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) documentation while IMER DEDJA LLC is listed as the licensee.
Singer noted Big Ass Slices as the reason for his concern. On June 3, Big Ass Slices was issued a Cease Operations order. At that time, Imer Dedja was listed as the person “in charge,” at Big Ass Slices and signed documentation from the Philadelphia Department of Health. But the owner of the establishment was Junto Restaurant Group LLC, with its corporate officer listed as Eric Keiles.
“As a neighbor, I have a multi-family building,” Singer said. “I have people living up there sleeping up there. It’s my responsibility that they have a safe and sanitary place to live. It has nothing to do with what type of restaurant or establishment it is.” According to City of Philadelphia records, Singer owns the property next to Boxers at 1332 Walnut St.
PLCB stipulates that “anyone with knowledge of the reputation of the applicant’s owners, officers, or proposed Board-approved manager may file a petition to intervene” in the case of a person-to-person transfer. While PLCB was unable to provide names of protesters or petitioners, the Liquor Control Board confirmed that three protests and one petition to intervene were filed, which means a hearing is necessary before a final transfer of the liquor license is approved. The license was placed into “safekeeping” by 1330 Walnut Partners LLC. If the license were taken out of "safekeeping" by 1330 Walnut Partners LLC, the current owners (1330 Walnut Partners LLC) could serve liquor as long as all else is valid and up to date, according to PLCB.
William Morrin, the liquor law and licensing attorney representing Tim Dedja, said Singer’s petition to intervene provides “baseless” accusations against Tim Dedja’s father Imer Dedja.
He said, “The only issue here is the character and reputation of Tim, and impugning his father's integrity is really inappropriate.”
Tim Dedja, who relayed that he is an ally to the LGBTQ community, said he doesn’t know much about Singer but has reached out to him to no avail.
Morrin said, “Initially, Sen. [Larry] Farnese's office had filed a petition to intervene, along with David Singer, so we held a meeting in Sen. Farnese's office some time ago, and they met with Tim and his father.” Morrin said Farnese along with The Washington West Square Civic Association “had some concerns that they didn't want a roof deck because that was an issue with the prior owner. Singer was not present, and we satisfied the concerns of Sen. Farnese and The Washington Square Civic Association. ...For whatever reason, and I'm not going to speculate, David Singer refused to remove his protest.”
Neal Pratt, president of The Washington Square West Civic Association, said in an email, “The Washington Square West Civic Association was pleased to successfully establish a conditional licensing agreement with the applicant through a Petition to Intervene by Senator Farnese, as we have done with many establishments in our community. The petition to intervene was thereafter withdrawn and we are unaware of the status of the applicant or LCB hearing.”
A representative from Sen. Farnese’s office J.P. Kurish said Sen. Farnese met with the applicant and Washington Square West Civic Association Board Member Judith Applebaum in June 2019.
Kurish said, “The First Senate District has more liquor licenses than any senate district in Pennsylvania. So the senator, having a lot of experience in this area, gets more requests for review of liquor license applicants than any senator in Pennsylvania,” adding that Farnese has a system in place to bring neighborhoods and applicants together.
“When he files one of those petitions, and the object is to get a conditional licensing agreement, it's not to object to the licensee, it's to allow him to be a party to the negotiations for the licensee,” said Kurish.
In this case, “It appeared Boxers was going to close and reopen as something completely different. That was what [Sen. Farnese’s office] was told and that was what the neighborhood association was told, and Sen. Farnese's office felt that they had an agreement among everybody. The neighborhood association was OK with it, the applicant was OK with it, and that's where they stood.”
Kurish said, Farnese’s office became aware of an objection from David Singer in December, which is when Farnese was contacted by Tim Dedja to see what could be done.
“His office tried to contact the objector,” Kurish said, “the objector would not back off his position of objecting, wouldn't listen to the news of what the plans were and wouldn't let Sen. Farnese or his staff talk to him. …Unfortunately, the way the liquor law is set up, they were able to run out the clock on [the Dedjas] because if there's an objector, there has to be a review period, and that takes time.”
He added, “By the time Sen. Farnese found out about the objection, there wasn't really much time left for the applicant to recover from it.”
“Sen. Farnese was very supportive of the transfer of the liquor license,” said Kurish. “He was very impressed with the plans. He thought it would satisfy the neighborhood organization, and it was a good idea. It seemed like the best case for their property. He just didn't become aware of any sort of legal bullying until the end of the year when it appeared that it was too late. But we are not aware of what the ultimate outcome will be.”
Tim Dedja said he thought, “This is an easy transfer. I’m 24. I have a clean record. I own two other restaurants. It will transferred to my name easily, and then a day ago, we find out that it just got canceled, the PLCB didn’t approve it, and David Singer won — that the liquor license isn’t being transferred, that it’s being put back into safekeeping, and it goes back to old owners.”
Tim Dedja is the owner of The Boiling Pot on Market Street and The Boiling House in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
Singer said, “I think it is more about current management not having success. They are closing the doors for some reason, but it’s not me. It’s just competition and the marketplace.”
Morrin said Tim Dedja is “legitimately upset over the way this went down,” and from Morrin’s standpoint, “I think he should proceed with the hearing and he should continue to fight. But the question is can he do it, can he financially hold on. It's a battle of attrition here and they have the upper hand because of the fact that the hearing can take months and months and you're at a disadvantage until you get that hearing.”
The PLCB verified that a hearing is not scheduled and also that there is no timetable for the hearing.
But Morrin relayed that State Rep. Brian Sims and Sen. Farnese reached out to him Wednesday afternoon offering to do anything they can to help Boxers reopen in a timely manner.
Ben P. Ablao Jr., general manager at Boxers, said, “My feeling is that [the Dedjas] want to continue to fight for the bar because they love the bar and they love the people that are there, and the staff. When I saw the look on their faces when everything was going on, I know it was genuine. I know I can count on them to at least try to do everything we can to make sure the doors open again."
Correction: The PLCB did not place the liquor license into safekeeping, the current owners, 1330 Walnut Partners LLC, did.