Ajna Bar Reopens Tonight, But Ownership Feud Continues

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Photo: Shanna Ravindra

After ten days of sitting dark, Ajna Bar (née Buddha Bar) is set to reopen tonight. The reopening is just the latest event in the epic battle for control of the meatpacking district hot spot that pits (now former) owners Joseph Kay and his sister Nina against Jean Yves Haouzi, the original manager of Buddha Bar whom the Kays fired in 2007.

The Kay family is originally from the country of Georgia, and the trail of Ajna Bar ownership shows that it is just one jewel in the crown of the billion-dollar estate of Arkady "Badri" Patarkatsishvili. Badri was a big player in the small world of Georgian politics and relative of the Kays, who died in 2008.

The Kay family claimed control of the estate, igniting a legal battle with Badri's widow, Inna Gudavadze. In January, the Kays went so far as to file a wrongful death suit in New York and claimed the widow and Russian oligarch Boris Berezhovsky “laced Badri’s drink with Sodium Fluoroacetate (‘SF’), also known as ‘death serum’ … commonly used by KGB operatives as a metabolic poison killing human beings.” But another court, in Gibraltar, returned the estate to the widow, who in turn ceded control of the restaurant back to Haouzi.

On March 31, Haouzi showed up at Ajna with a private security team and ousted Nina Kay. According to affidavits filed since, the NYPD was called to the scene and ordered Nina and her managers from the premises. Ajna’s liquor license, which is under Haouzi’s name, expired that same day.

The Kay family is furious. In an affidavit filed April 2, Nina claims that Haouzi criminally “invaded” Buddha Bar “in a gangland manner,” noting that New York is "not a wild west: … Controversies pending before this Honorable court may not be resolved … by mob-style actions.” Judge Bernard Fried referred Nina’s claims to the Manhattan D.A.’s office for further investigation. The D.A.’s office says it “takes all claims seriously,” but would not comment on specifics. Haouzi denied the accusations in a sworn affidavit filed three days later.

Claims of shadowy KGB-style killing notwithstanding, Haouzi has rearranged the furniture and is back in his perch. The state today granted him a temporary liquor license, so Ajna (or is it Buddha Bar again?) is back, at least for a while.

Attorney Martin P. Russo's Affidavit [PDF]
Nina Kay Zajic's Affidavit [PDF]
Jean Yves Haouzi's Affidavit [PDF]