CB3 Panel Approves Liquor Licenses for Bowery Steakhouse, Basketball City

199 Bowery. Photo credit: New York Magazine.

What’s to be done with a venue boasting a maximum occupancy of 900? Well, in the case of 199 Bowery, the Lower East Side has already been graced with mega-clubs Blvd, Crash Mansion and Soiree. Tonight, at the tail end of Community Board 3’s blessedly brief SLA Committee hearing, we learned this cursed spot is about to become home to an enormous steakhouse from the father/son team behind Quality Meats and Smith & Wollensky.

Alan (father) and Michael (son)  Stillman won approval for their concept, a “slightly more affordable” version of the original Quality Meats on 58th Street. The offshoot will include around 300 seats on the main level, plus a 50 foot bar — along with a downstairs club with an “occasional DJ and live music.” There will also be a bakery and ice cream bar up front.

The restaurant will be allowed to stay open as late as 4 a.m. The Stillman’s agreed to hire licensed security, seven nights a week if necessary.  Some committee members expressed concerns about crowd control, but there seemed to be general agreement this place is an upgrade from its clubby predecessors.

Also tonight, the committee narrowly agreed to support a full bar for Basketball City, the 55,000 square foot sports complex coming to Pier 36 (at the end of Montgomery Street). The company’s owner, Bruce Radler, appeared alongside the team from the Ark Restaurant Group (Bryant Park Grill, Canyon Road).

Basketball City, which was once located at Chelsea Piers, hosts corporate leagues, charity events and is made available to neighborhood schools and other organizations during daytime hours.  In the early 1990’s, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver successfully sued the city, arguing that the pier should be used for “community facilities.” Basketball City was awarded a long-term lease at the dilapidated pier. The community board then hashed out an agreement with Radler on issues like local hiring and community access to the basketball courts. Two years ago, however, a coalition representing low income residents on the waterfront began campaigning for more concessions.  In the past several months, City Councilwoman Margaret Chin got involved, trying to mediate among Radler, CB3 and the coalition.

Tonight, several community activists showed up to protest the liquor license.  Sammy Vasquez, a member of GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side) urged the SLA panel to take into consideration that Radler had not agreed to sign a binding community benefits agreement. Corey Cofield, who lives in the Riis Houses, argued a liquor license would commercialize the pier and quicken the pace of gentrification. Ricky Leung, a tenant association leader and member of Community Board 3, said he was not personally opposed to Basketball City’s presence on Pier 36. But he called the notion of a liquor license within the facility “appalling.” Joel Feingold, a former GOLES organizer, suggested Chin was helping to advocate for a stronger, binding agreement.

(Tuesday morning, aides to Councilwoman Chin explained that she had met a few months ago with members of the coalition, CB3 and representatives from Basketball City. The councilwoman’s priority, they said, is making sure the current agreement accommodates as much local hiring as possible. From her perspective, the process is and should be in the hands of the community board and the LES Employment Network, a collaboration among several neighborhood social service organizations).

Representatives from Ark, the food vendor, emphasized that the restaurant, on a second floor mezzanine, would only be open when Basketball City is hosting nighttime events. They suggested the liquor sales would be a small part of their overall business. Radler pointed out that he has a good reputation for working with neighborhood organizations, especially groups helping disadvantaged children. Radler also said he’d gone out of his way to work with CB3.

In the end, the committee was split. The deadlock was broken by CB3 Chair Dominic Pisciotta, who is not on the SLA Committee but was present for the debate.

We’ll have a few other notes from tonight’s meeting during the day tomorrow.