With soundproofing underway and a study in hand saying those measures will all but ensure live music at Buffa’s falls within the city’s sound ordinance, the Esplanade Avenue bar is planning to return to a full schedule of performances next month after the expiration of a 60-day agreement it signed with a neighbor who sued over loud music at the venue. But that decision promises to set off another round in the legal fight between Buffa’s and Sydney Torres IV, the former president of SDT Waste and Debris Services, who said the bar must stick to a four-day music schedule, regardless of how much of its music is or is not leaking off the property and into his bedroom.
Since heading off a lawsuit in August by agreeing to a reduced music schedule, Buffa’s has been working to make sure its music will not create problems, owner Chuck Rogers said. That included making renovations to the building, some of which already had been planned.
“We have the right to exist as a business. We also have the responsibility to be neighborly,” Rogers said. “We can do both.”
Torres said he was hopeful the changes would solve the problem, but he and his attorney, Justin Schmidt, warned they would make sure the bar does not cause a disturbance.
“As long as they don’t go over the sound limit, I don’t have a problem with it,” Torres said. “At the end of the day, that’s the bottom line. I support all music and all music that’s been played at Buffa’s as long as I’ve been living here.”
However, he said, the bar would have to stick to the traditional four-day music schedule that predated Rogers’ ownership.
What had been Buffa’s bathrooms are now just studs and pipes as crews work to build additional soundproofing onto the bar’s lakeside wall, which faces Torres’ house. While renovating those bathrooms, it became clear that there previously had been nothing to muffle the sound before it hit the metal sides of the building, Rogers said.
That configuration could have amplified the vibrations coming from live performers, he said. To prevent that, workers are installing new walls of gypsum and plywood inside the building to further dampen the noise, he said.
While still incomplete, those efforts have already paid off, Rogers said. Earlier this month, the bar hired Dave Woolworth, an acoustics expert who works as a consultant for the city, to take readings from Torres’ property as the Royal Rounders played at Buffa’s. That test, conducted with Torres’ permission, saw the band play normally before steadily amping up the volume, eventually breaching the bar’s self-imposed limit on how loudly bands can play — roughly 90 decibels, enough to force patrons to shout to be heard — 41 times, Rogers said.
The music was so loud that three tables of customers decided to leave, despite being warned about the test, he said.
Still, he said, the study found that the noise in Torres’ yard peaked at 61 decibels, just over the limits contained in city ordinances. Rogers said those peaks would not occur normally because a sound meter known as a Yakker Tracker in the bar warns bands with a red light when they play too loudly. In addition, he said, the soundproofing was not yet finished and the highest readings came only when the bar took down material used to block off the bathrooms’ doorways.
Torres said he had to text Schmidt three times during that study because the music was too loud. He also said the bass notes from the bar, his primary complaint, can be disruptive even if the music itself isn’t loud enough to violate the noise ordinance.
Rogers said it was not surprising the test was disruptive, since the idea was to make the music as loud as possible to figure out exactly where to draw the line and the renovations were not yet complete.
Schmidt acknowledged that noise from the bar had been reduced in the tests. But, he said, that’s no guarantee the bar would not be a nuisance to Torres in the future.
“The fact that under a controlled environment they were able to control noise and it was only elevated a few times, I don’t think it’s an accurate assessment that it’s fixed forever,” Schmidt said.
“If Sydney doesn’t hear it, he’s not going to call me, and I’m not going to call my private investigators to go over there and take some sound measurements,” he said.
The bar has spent about $13,000 on the improvements, sound study and legal fees, Rogers said, and he estimates the reduced hours for live music have meant missing out on between $6,000 and $8,000 in revenue. Further renovations could be considered if problems continue and Torres allows experts to listen from his property to determine how to fix them, Rogers said.
But even if the sound improvements work, the next battle could see Rogers and Torres in court over how often bands can play.
When the agreement between the two runs out Oct. 3, Rogers plans to return to presenting music every day of the week but Tuesday. The bands would stop by 11 p.m. on weekdays and 10 p.m. on Sundays, with performances running later for comedy shows on Fridays and performances on Saturdays, which can go until 2 a.m.
That shouldn’t cause a problem for Torres’ property, Rogers said. “We’ve created an environment where sound just won’t get out,” he said.
But Torres and Schmidt said they’ll return to court to seek an injunction limiting Buffa’s to having music from Thursday through Sunday, the days they said the bar could demonstrate it had a history of presenting live music prior to Rogers taking over the more than 70-year-old business. Schmidt said evidence produced by Buffa’s in the lawsuit to prove it had a history of live music showed a history of performances on those days.
That would actually be less than the schedule allowed by the current agreement, which also allows music on Wednesdays until 9 p.m.
Requiring Buffa’s to adhere to those limits comes from concern over what future owners might do at the bar, Schmidt said.
“Just because the (current owners) are behaving, that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed in perpetuity,” he said.
But Rogers said the bar’s history does not come into play in this case. He said Buffa’s has a so-called mayoralty permit, which allows for live music. While the bar had to show a history of music to get the permit, the permit itself doesn’t restrict how often performances can occur.
Further legal wrangling won’t help the situation, Rogers said.
“I don’t see how that’s going to benefit anybody,” he said. “It’s just going to put money in lawyers’ pockets because we have a legal right to do what we’re doing.”