New York City

The Sanctuary Speakeasy: Let’s Sneak A Private Look Inside

Inside the Sanctuary Speakeasy on Roosevelt Island, video shows massive changes underway, but longstanding, unanswered concerns also surface.

By David Stone

As reported earlier, work on The Sanctuary, an historic church being rebuilt as a speakeasy, continued during New York’s coronavirus lockdown. Other construction, like Cornell Tech’s hotel, stopped as ordered.

And Governor Cuomo urged wearing face coverings and social distancing, but Sanctuary workers ignored that too.

RIOC‘s Public Safety Department reminded everyone on the Island to comply or at least claimed they did, but they skipped this place.

Video: Inside The Sanctuary Speakeasy

Hudson Sanctuary Speakeasy/Outdoor Beer Garden Under Construction
A planned outdoor beer garden took shape in April while all other non-essential construction elsewhere on Roosevelt Island stopped.

Yesterday, an anonymous source emailed video from inside the speakeasy. Shot we were all supposed to be in lockdown, it includes scenes from the outdoor beer garden as well.

Although audio quality is poor, a host meets with Glow Group owner Frank Raffaele, among others. Raffaele, reminding viewers that it’s a church, jokes that they should pray.

Exposed work is substantial, a near complete remake, and new construction takes it within a few yards of a kids’ playground at The Octagon.

Always local, always more: Roosevelt Island News

But take a look for yourself…

A video tour of The Sanctuary Speakeasy and Outdoor Beer Garden, under construction during the lockdown that called for a halt for everything non-essential. Department of Buildings work permits are nowhere visible, never have been.

Our November, 2019, report show the owners, Frank Raffaele, Alfonso Bondi and Gene Sky embroiled in angry lawsuits rooted in their breakup with Coffeed.

Coffeed ousted Raffaele and Sky, their founders, a year ago, under a cloud of bitter accusations.

But that merely capped several months of mounting issues.

A History of Issues

Inside the Sanctuary Speakeasy’s many issues are embedded questions: Why are apparent violations of city regulations ignored by RIOC?

Why aren’t threats to community life discussed openly?

We shared the video with both RIOC and Hudson Related, late yesterday, asking questions about what it showed.

RIOC asked for more time to evaluate the video, and Hudson Related, as is their practice, did not respond. The real estate developer stopped answering questions when we challenged the appropriateness of the speakeasy and beer garden.

No explanation was offered at the time, but RIOC reacted swiftly after an under the radar opening attempt in September. Safeguards against risky traffic went into place.

But they weren’t always enough.

Inside Concerns About The Sanctuary Speakeasy

Most alarming worries involve whether an event space of this kind is right for this location at all.

Not only is The Sanctuary set in the middle of Roosevelt Island park space, it’s separated from a pair of children’s playgrounds by nothing more than a narrow fire lane.

And the fire lane itself is a problem because it’s the only vehicle access to The Sanctuary. There aren’t any stripes and not even a stop sign. The narrow artery was never meant to handle public traffic.

Even before that, the fire lane itself is accessible only by driving through a resident parking lot and building entrance.

Popular picnic tables and outdoor grills are only yards from where weekend parties will likely send tipsy visitors wandering along the West Promenade.

Blaring music overtaking your family get-together? Who’s in favor of public urination over the seawall?

But what’s worse…

Neither RIOC nor surrogate landlord Hudson Related seem at all inclined to corral The Sanctuary’s owners. Court papers accuse Raffaele of tossing around Governor Cuomo’s name for influence. While Cuomo oversees RIOC, there is no evidence that this is a factor.

But why else would the state agency look the other way?

Work permits from New York City’s Department of Buildings aren’t posted, and while work continued uninterrupted during the coronavirus shutdown, face masks and social distancing were likewise not anywhere in view.

Work on the Sanctuary Speakeasy continued during New York State's coronavirus lockdown.
No face coverings, no distancing, no problems from RIOC, during New York PAUSE.

Perhaps the greatest overriding concern is that, whatever the rules are, no one appears willing to enforce them inside The Sanctuary Speakeasy.

That does not bode well for the future on Roosevelt Island.

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