If the owners of Koi had any illusions that their "meet and greet" with neighbors the other night would appease the community, they most definitely don't after this evening's CB3 committee meeting. The panel that reviews applications for new liquor licenses balked at the notion of a 200+ seat high end-restaurant taking over the old Salvation Army building on the Bowery.
The committee heard from three residents opposed to the application on the grounds that the Bowery, already overburdened with "mega-hotels" and sidewalk cafes, has become a "free for all." One woman said the project would "destroy any shred of peace we have left." The owners, explaining their desire to relocate from Bryant Park, said they were determined to be good neighbors. But the committee was unanimously opposed to the scale of the restaurant (6-thousand square feet). They cited the overflowing street and sidewalk that has made the area nearly unbearable on weekend evenings and the fact that the business would be a destination restaurant, not a neighborhood hangout. The broker managing the sale said the owners had "paid a hefty price" for the building and warned it would likely be "abandoned" if the Koi deal is scuttled (a contention several CB members scoffed at).
Dave McWater, a CB3 member who frequently sticks up for restaurants appearing before the committee, said the project was wrong for the Lower East Side. He asserted that it was important to protect the character of the neighborhood from gentrification and unbridled development. Given the investment Koi has already made, it's a good bet this battle is just beginning.
Jeremiah's Vanishing New York has a complete blow by blow of the Koi debate.
Earlier in the evening, Mason Dixon owner Rob Shamlian and residents who live above the restaurant on Essex Street, faced off — and it wasn't pretty. The two sides have been locked in legal skirmishes for many months — keeping lawyers very busy suing and counter-suing. Tonight, CB3 was considering whether to recommend renewing Mason Dixon's liquor license. Residents complained about noise wafting from the restaurant's (allegedly) open door.
They're also irritated by Shamlian's contention that he's not bound to abide by certain conditions the committee outlined when the liquor license was originally awarded. Among those conditions: an agreement that there would be no live music. Shamlian said he believed the conditions became outmoded after the State Liquor Authority came out to investigate his business. Shamlian said he was "not concerned about the complaints… because they come from people who are malicious." He claimed the residents wanted to push him out of the building months before Mason Dixon had even opened.
In the end, the committee concluded there was little evidence that Shamlian had misrepresented the nature of his restaurant. They signaled their support for a renewal, but reiterated that noise must be kept to a minimum.
Now for a recap of the other LES applications heard by CB3 tonight:
- Jehann LLC, an Asian fusion restaurant in the old Regate space on Orchard Street, won support for a full liquor license. They'll stay open until 2am on weekends.
- Jama Restaurant Corp got the committee's approval for a full liquor license at 210 Rivington.
- The committee signaled its support for Motorino's bid to take over the wine only liquor license at 349 East 12th Street, where the highly touted Una Pizza Napoletana has now closed up shop.
- The CB3 panel declined to support Bar 169's request to serve alcohol in its backyard. A resident of the swanky Forward Building spoke out against the application, saying she and her neighbors were concerned about noise and cigarette smoke. The owner said he wanted to start serving food – it's unclear whether he'll still go ahead with plans to fire up the kitchen. Committee member Dave McWater, a bar owner himself, urged Bar 169 to forget the patio. Arguing that it's not worth the trouble, he said "you're going to hate yourself for having a backyard."
- The committee supported Guapo Bodega's bid for a full liquor license at 146 Essex, a former furniture store. The restaurant is being opened by the team behind Stanton Social.