The Golden Cicada Jersey City
The Golden Cicada Jersey City

For a nondescript, windowless brick building with the aesthetic appeal of a 24-hour liquor store, the Golden Cicada has gotten more than its fair share of attention. From an epic eminent domain case that made the The New York Times in 2005 to a profile in The Paris Review in which the writer throws back shots of a spicy Chinese liquor known as Maotaithe Cicada his punched way above its weight.

Now, the Golden Cicada is in the news again, but not in a good way. Neighbors are complaining about the music.

At a special meeting on July 20, the Jersey City Division of Commerce gave the owners another week or so to make their case with the community on whether it should be issued an entertainment license.

Gary Keating, who runs the restaurant and beer-garden with his wife, Eva Johannesdotti, told Maynard Woodson, division director he’d issued an open invitation for anyone unhappy with the way the business is operating to simply visit the place on July 26 starting at 6 p.m. and hash things out with the owners.

“I’m here to try and broker a peace with the neighborhood. I’ve requested them to come to the table to talk … to come to a middle ground,” he said.

Woodson told him the city would delay its decision until the meeting takes place July 26.

During the special session, held at the Commerce Division offices at 4 Jackson Square, a lone objector, Robert Tierney, complained about excessive noise from amplified music at the Grand Street locale. “This isn’t art, it’s pollution,” he said.

Joe Barron, a city code compliance officer, noted that the city had recently received dozens of noise complaints from residents. As a result, he said, the city has recently issued five summonses charging the owners with violations of peace and good order.

Ward F Councilman Frank Gilmore added that his office has received complaints about “loud music and things of that nature” emanating from the venue along with emails from residents opposing the city’s issuing the Cicada an entertainment license.

Seven residents spoke in support of the business. Among them was Nicolo Jones, who said she appreciated the owners’ making available an outside space “where kids are welcome.” She said she brings her 8-month-old baby to the location on Sunday afternoons. The baby naps, she added, while classic, rock, and reggae music play from “three small speakers.”

Thomas Duke said it was “important for the community to have a place where local musicians can come and grow.”  Tom Gallo, who produces live music events, said he welcomed places like the Golden Cicada that offer live entertainment. “It’s disappointing to see how (the number) of spaces hosting live music has shrunk,” he said.

Karen Poliski, a local folk musician, said she was a fan of the enterprise, adding the music was at an acceptable level. “It’s not loud,” she added. “You can have a conversation. The clientele are not causing havoc.”

Keating griped that some neighbors are spreading “disinformation” about the place in an unfair effort to discredit it. Keating said he’s been mindful about limiting both the time and volume of the live music played there.

As for complaints called in by residents about loud noise, Johannsdotti said that each time police officers responded, “They told us, ‘continue, carry on,’ apparently concluding the business was not in violation of any city ordinance.

Johannsdotti said none of the summons the couple received have stated decibel levels to document allegations of excessive noise, but Woodson replied that the city ordinance doesn’t require that to be done. There is, however, a city ordinance that restricts holders of a “nightclub entertainment license” to a decibel level of 65 dB from noon to 10 p.m.  How, if at all, that may apply to a general “entertainment license” couldn’t be readily ascertained.

Another city ordinance says that outdoor entertainment may “only be granted where the (Commerce Division director) is convinced that it would not unreasonably interfere with the quality of life of the surrounding community” and that music shall cease at 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 10:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.  Also, the Commerce director “may, in consultation with the Department of Public Safety, establish any reasonable conditions deemed necessary for the health, safety and welfare of the public prior to granting any license,” the language reads.

The couple presented Woodson with in excess of 500 signatures from supporters — “mostly locals”— favoring granting the entertainment license.

Councilman Gilmore, who said he plans to visit the business July 26, said his goal is “hopefully, we can create a mechanism where the establishment can do what it wants to do” while satisfying its neighbors.

In a few years, however, the sound of any music that remains may be replaced by jackhammers as Silverman moves forward with a proposed 401 unit development that would see the Golden Cicada demolished.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...