Union City officials shut down an after-hours spot on Bergenline Avenue after one man was murdered and another critically injured just steps from its doors around 3 a.m. on Memorial Day.
According to local officials, Studio 45 Nite Club (on Bergenline Avenue between 45th Street and Golden Lane) has been the source of various problems over the years and has been allegedly selling alcohol even after its liquor license was taken away years ago.
Another man was stabbed to death outside the club three years ago.
“We’re doing everything in the power of Union City to see this business closed permanently.” – Brian Stack
Union City Mayor Brian Stack called the business a “major problem” and “public nuisance” and pledged to do everything in his power to keep it from re-opening.
Representatives from Studio 45 did not return calls for comment before press time.
Fight escalates to stabbing
In the wee hours of Monday morning, Ivan Restrepo, a 23-year-old Union City resident, was stabbed to death during a fight involving a group of men near the front of Studio 45.
Restrepo died after arriving at the hospital as a result of 12 stab wounds.
His brother, Alejandro Restrepo, 19, was also stabbed multiple times and remained in the hospital throughout the week in critical condition but was expected to survive.
DeFazio said that one suspect, Juan Ventura Balbuena, 19, of West New York, was arrested at the scene after a third party held him there until police arrived.
Investigators put a warrant out for the arrest of his cousin, Daniel Balbuena, 18, of West New York, whom they believe was also involved in the murder.
According to DeFazio, there were a number of witnesses to the event, which he said started as a verbal argument during which insults were exchanged. It then escalated into a physical altercation.
DeFazio alleged that both of the Balbuena cousins were armed with knives, but said it did not appear that the victims were armed.
Investigators said that both suspects are undocumented immigrants from Mexico. DeFazio would not speak to the citizenship status of the victims.
Closed for business
Police executed a search warrant on Tuesday morning that Police Chief Charles Everett said led to the discovery of evidence that the business was selling allegedly alcohol after its license had been taken away, including alcohol on the premises, witness statements, and video footage.
Officials said they were unable to previously shut the business down completely, because although the alcohol license was taken away, a court order allowed Studio 45 to continue operating.
Stack said that the business has cost the city thousands of dollars in legal fees over the years and it is not fair to anyone for this kind of business to be allowed to operate.
Based on the evidence found on Tuesday, the city was able to seize the business (although not the property) immediately and announce plans to revoke the certificate of occupancy and business license.
“We’re doing everything in the power of Union City to see this business closed permanently,” said Stack.
He added that the only way the business will be allowed to reopen is if it is ordered by the superior court.
If the owner of the building chooses to rent it to a different tenant, a business will be able to open at the location.
Stack said that any business that “complements the other businesses in the area” would be welcomed, but not a place that attracts teen parties and alcohol.
‘Scandalously past your bedtime’
On a club directory website, Studio 45 is mentioned with the following venue description: “So it’s midnight. You’re still feeling it. You’re still buzzed. Why go home? You don’t have to. Studio 45 Discotheque, located at 4528 Bergenline Ave., is open well after normal closing-time, so you can keep the vibe going until it’s scandalously past your bedtime.”
Everett said that the danger of businesses being open after the city’s designated closing hour of 2 a.m. is that it puts a strain on the police force because mandated closing hours allow the police force to deploy manpower at the greatest concentration when needed.
In contrast, officers on duty in all areas in the city had had to respond to the stabbing incident Monday, which Everett said should not be the case.
“The business runs counter to public safety,” said Everett.
Another man stabbed there
Studio 45 had become known for its teen parties and “Exotic Fridays” (which photos reveal featured scantily clad women grinding on clientele). Those types of events were still listed on the board outside when the place was padlocked.
The two genres even merged on some nights, during events such as the “Sexiest Male Chest” contest held on one teen night last year.
DeFazio said that there have been contacts with his office regarding incidents in or near the club over the past few years, and three years ago there was another homicide.
According to previously published reports, Luis Rodolfo Castellanos, 45, of Union City was fatally stabbed at the same location on August 11, 2007. Eduardo Castillo Hernandez was found guilty of the crime and is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence.
A Union City resident, who did not identify himself, said that he lives across the street from Studio 45 and had witnessed the recent Memorial Day stabbing.
He charged that the business has been a troublesome neighbor and that on the evening of the murder, people were being pushed out of the club and encouraged to fight outdoors.
Mayor Stack said that another problem was, cameras had previously allegedly been found in the women’s bathroom at the club.
On the run
As of press time, investigators were still searching for Daniel Balbuena. DeFazio said that he has not been seen at his home on 67th Street or at other locations where he is believed to have friends and relatives.
Investigators said he is also known as “Daniel Balbuena Cortez” and “Erik Garcia” and is approximately 5’10” to 5’11”.
Anyone with information about the stabbing incident or Daniel Balbuena’s whereabouts should call the Prosecutor's Office Homicide Squad at (201) 915-1345.
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.