FORT LAUDERDALE — Lew
Weinstein, a retiree from Manhattan who once ran for
Congress, thought a posh condo overlooking downtown Fort
Lauderdale would make the perfect spot to live out his
Now he’s not so sure after a bustling bar opened down below, spoiling his peace and quiet.
Salt7′s restaurant and popular outdoor bar opened in late January at the Icon, a 43-story luxury apartment tower overlooking the New River at 500 East Las Olas Blvd. The first noise complaint came two days later. Three months after that, complaints continue to roll into police headquarters and City Hall — including some from the 80-year-old Weinstein.
The Salt7 dustup illuminates a festering culture clash as downtown Fort Lauderdale evolves into both a lively entertainment mecca for young people and a retreat for older, well-to-do homeowners.
Some people, including the mayor, predict the conflict will intensify as more hot spots open and downtown takes on a more urban vibe.
“A lot of people who move to these areas expect there will be noise and large gatherings of people — and they are looking for that and don’t mind it,” Mayor Dean Trantalis said. “Others do. There will be some growing pains. As we continue to build the city, we will have to reach a happy medium.”
So far, that happy medium has yet to be found in the Salt7 noise wars.
In three months alone, the city’s police and code enforcement officers have been forced to play noise cop, responding to dozens of complaints about the happening new hot spot. Since Salt7 opened in late January, police alone have gotten 63 noise complaints.
A frustrated Weinstein, whose 12th floor condo at the neighboring Las Olas Grand overlooks the bar, says he was one of the callers.
“They have music and a drum or something that’s playing all the time,” Weinstein said. “They’re out there screaming and hollering and carrying on. They have a right to make money. They have no right to destroy our peace and quiet.”
John Kostoglou, one of Salt7′s owners, says they truly want to be a good neighbor but are growing weary of all the complaints.
‘People are trying
“There’s a few people who think they’re living somewhere out west,” Kostoglou said. “They’ve been complaining ever since the Icon was built, when it was under construction. I don’t think they want anything there.”
Since Salt7 opened in late January, Fort Lauderdale code officers have been out 18 times to investigate all kinds of complaints — including one unfounded claim that the hot spot was operating as a nightclub without a license.
One caller griped that people at the bar were talking loudly. One said patrons were crowding together shoulder to shoulder at the bar despite the pandemic. Another complained that the bar was blasting loud amplified music until 2 a.m. while “thousands of people are trying to sleep.”
But Salt7 has failed a code officer’s noise test only once, on March 7. That night, the meter recorded the sound at 86.5 decibels, well over the 65 decibel limit. Salt7 was given a warning.
Scott Weiselberg, an attorney and one of Salt7′s owners, said the business never anticipated all the backlash.
“We have taken significant steps to be as accommodating as we can,” he said. “Each manager has a decibel meter on their phone. We have greatly reduced the bass levels over the last several weeks to try to be a good neighbor.”
‘You can’t make everybody happy’
But the complaints are still coming.
“Sometimes you just can’t make everybody happy,” he said.
Most of the complaints are coming from the 39-story Las Olas Grand condo next door, home to an estimated 400 residents who paid anywhere from $800,000 to $1.5 million for their homes.
Maria Ebersole, a local architect who moved into Las Olas Grand two years ago, said she can’t get a good night’s sleep or enjoy her balcony since Salt7 came to town.
“They play nightclub music, and as the night goes on they turn up the music,” she said. “And it comes pounding through our hurricane glass windows. The music is like torture. Your whole body is pounding with the drumbeat of the music. It has changed our lives entirely. We have lost the use of our balcony.”
Ebersole, 63, describes herself and her husband as urban souls who’ve lived in San Francisco and Charlotte.
“Never did we dream this would happen to us in Fort Lauderdale,” she said. “I know there is a compromise to be had here. Continue to do business, but turn the dang music off. Or change it to something mellow without the bass beat.”
Ron Castille, a retired chief justice from Pennsylvania, said he and his wife are so fed up they’re ready to move.
“They have this music, and the music is always on,” he said. “You hear this thump, thump, thump. And it’s pumped up at a high volume. And that’s all you hear is thump, thump. It goes till 2 a.m.”
Castille, 77, had this advice for the bar: “Play Mozart.”
Castille isn’t the only resident at the Grand to suggest the bar switch to classical music — a request that gets an eye roll from management.
“We’re not the Lawrence Welk Show,” Kostoglou said. “We play rock and roll, top 40 hits. That’s never going to change.”
Giulio “Jules” Lustrinelli discovered Salt7 not long after it opened and can’t get enough of the place.
“It’s really booming on Friday and Saturday,” he said. “It’s the place to go.”
Lustrinelli describes himself as a retired “Wall Street guy” who’s 58 going on 38.
His condo is down the street from Salt7, but he can’t hear a peep from the bar even out on his sixth-floor balcony. It wouldn’t bother him if he did, he said.
“If you’re going to live in the city you have to put up with this — or move out to the country,” he said. “The older people at Las Olas Grand want perfect silence. The bottom line is these people need to realize this is Fort Lauderdale. It’s a booming city. Buildings are going up. Things are happening.”
The mayor predicts the noise complaints will keep streaming in as the city’s downtown continues to grow and evolve. In the past, neighbors have complained about other bars downtown and on the beach, Trantalis says. But Salt7 is the latest friction point between old and new.
The downtown population has gotten both older and younger at the same time, said Jenni Morejon, resident and CEO of the Downtown Development Authority.
“People want to live here,” Morejon said. “Dozens of young professional couples moved down here during the pandemic. They love it here. And they want to stay here.”
Lew Weinstein and his wife, Patricia Lenny, say their balcony gives them a bird's eye view of what's going on at Salt7's outdoor bar next to their Las Olas Grand condo. The bigger the crowd, the louder things get, they say.
Close to 20,000 residential units have been built or approved in downtown Fort Lauderdale, with 3,600 built in the past two years, 1,299 currently under construction and another 5,922 planned.
Nearly 19,000 people live downtown — a 41% increase since 2010, Morejon said. And Fort Lauderdale’s downtown population is projected to grow 45% over the next five years.
Hunting for a remedy
Hillary Tescher moved into the Grand with her husband seven years ago, but she remembers when Fort Lauderdale was a sleepy town with just one lonely high-rise building.
“Now we’re growing into our own urban center,” she said. “We know we moved into an urban area. But there’s a difference between an urban area and having your bed vibrate because of the bass. You can feel the vibration from my balcony.”
One woman sent an email to the mayor saying she is considering selling her place at Las Olas Grand, where she’s lived for eight years.
“I don’t think I can live here,” she said in an email sent just days after Salt7 opened. “It’s too much.”
The conflict has Commissioner Ben Sorensen on the hunt for a remedy.
Sorensen, whose district includes downtown, wants commissioners to consider strengthening the city’s noise laws.
“The sound ordinance was written many years ago,” Sorensen said. “The city has changed. We’re an evolving, growing, vibrant city. I want to look at new technology as far as measuring sound and where we measure from. I want to look at the sound levels that are permitted and where those sound levels are permitted.”
Weinstein and his wife have been at the Grand for two years and long for the days when they had their peace and quiet.
The past few months, Weinstein said, they’ve had trouble sleeping due to what he calls the “monstrosity of noise” coming from Salt7.
“We’re old,” he said. “We go to bed early. I got earplugs for my wife. She has to wear them to go to sleep. Even to sit out on the terrace to read the paper Sunday afternoon, she wears the earplugs.”
But they have no plans to give up the fight and sell their place, he said.
“We’re not thinking about moving,” he said. “We’re thinking about solving this problem — which the city should be doing.”
He scoffed at the idea of blaming it on the development boom underway in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
“We lived 15 years in Manhattan,” he said. “There is no more urban area in the world than Manhattan. And they would never ever allow this in Manhattan. They would never allow it.”