This green oasis is the latest project from the team behind Forgtmenot and Kiki’s, the popular local spots on Division Street. The restaurant, Monroe (49 Monroe St.), is right across from Coleman Skatepark under the Manhattan Bridge. It opened last night after months of renovations and planning.
As you can see, it’s a big, dramatic space filled with plants. The former home of Kaplan Philip Glass Works features a double height ceiling, an expansive rectangular bar in the back of the restaurant and long picnic-style tables meant to accommodate groups.
Monroe’s menu is Southern European/Mediterranean. You’ll find Italian, French and Spanish dishes, many of them ideal for sharing. Main courses include seafood paella, a 16-ounce rib eye, a mixed seafood platter, lasagna and cacio e pepe. Among the smaller plates are escargots, steak tartare, mussels (steamed or grilled), meat and cheese platters and a variety of salads (Caesar, Nicoise, Lyonaisse, etc.). Like the team’s other restaurants, prices are gentle. The small plates range from $7-12. Entrees run from $12 for carbonara up to $29 for the steak.
Paul and Abby Sierros opened Forgtmenot at 138 Division St. in 2012, winning over locals with a combination of warm service and uncomplicated but well-prepared bar food. Kiki’s , serving homestyle Greek food, debuted on the same block three years later. A coffee shop next door to Monroe (Little Chair) was added to the mix this past summer, in the aftermath of a brutal battle at Community Board 3 over a liquor permit. One more venture is still to come — a rotisserie chicken and pita spot on Division Street.
For now, Monroe is open for dinner only. Weekend brunch and lunch will be added later.
49 Monroe St., the site of a new restaurant from the Forgtmenot team.
Community Board 3 voted 27-11 last night to support a liquor permit application for a new restaurant on Monroe Street from the team that owns Forgtmenot and Kiki’s. But beforehand, there was a lengthy and contentious debate about gentrification and nightlife encroachment in one of the last unspoiled sections of Manhattan.
The operators of the popular Division Street spots are planning to open a 2500 sq. ft. Southern European restaurant in a commercial building at 49 Monroe St., across from Coleman Skatepark. Earlier this month, CB3’s SLA Committee recommended approval of the liquor license, while acknowledging opposition from 81 local residents who signed a petition circulated by the Orchard Street Block Association. Members of the panel cited the owners’ reputation on Division Street as responsible operators sensitive to concerns from neighbors.
But last night new opposition surfaced from residents of Knickerbocker Village, the large residential complex located on Monroe Street a block to the west of the new restaurant. Even before the meeting began, we received a press release from a new group called the “Two Bridges Neighborhood Association.” Lead organizer Jenny Yu said in a statement, “The residents of Two Bridges are a tight-knit community and are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that any changes serve for the betterment of our residents, and there continues to be a place where hard working-class New Yorkers have a place to call home and raise their families.”
They came last night armed with 400 signatures and letters. Isabel Reyna Torres, a member of Knickerbocker Village Tenants’ Association, recounted an incident this past November at 49 Monroe St. — a private event in the building — that caused “immense noise and chaos” and ended in a visit by cops from the 5th Precinct. Paul Sierros, co-owner of the new business, noted that he hadn’t even signed a lease until January 1 and had nothing to do with the event Torres highlighted.
A pastor from Chinese Mission Church at 31 Monroe St. spoke against a full liquor permit, saying the area is “a family oriented” neighborhood. Another speaker asked whether it is the community board’s job to “protect businesses trying to exploit the neighborhood” or to protect local residents.
The board also heard from supporters of the Forgtmenot team. Michael Goldman, a Knickerbocker Village resident, said the original restaurant became a home-away-from-home for him shortly after moving to the area four years ago. He said the operators are small business owners, not corporate interlopers, that their “identity is consistent with the neighborhood” and that they do not represent gentrification in any way.
Following public remarks, board members had their say. Cathy Deng, an affordable housing activist, said her organization (CAAAV) has been advocating for tenants being squeezed out of buildings on Monroe Street. When one nightlife establishment comes into an area, she argued, “we start to see other problems,” referring to more restaurants, rent hikes and displacement of residential tenants.
Another board member, Anne Johnson, said she hoped the food would be affordable to the local community, which is predominantly working class and low income. “I have just as many concerns about gentrification” as the residents, Johnson said. Val Jones agreed, asserting that the restaurant is “moving into new territory,” a part of the neighborhood where “we don’t have a lot of bars and don’t want a lot of bars.”
“As a community,” she said, “we should say we support the residents.” Noting that the restaurant is across from a playground, Jones called the liquor permit a question of public health.
But Meghan Joye (co-owner of bars such as Lucky Jack’s and Donnybrook) noted that the State Liquor Authority would almost certainly approve the permit. The 500 Foot Law, which triggers a state hearing, does not apply because there aren’t three or more existing liquor licenses within striking distance of the new establishment. Since the applicant runs two other businesses with impeccable records, she said, and because Sierros already agreed to scale back his hours, the permit is basically “a gimme.” Personally, Joye added, she found it offensive (as a bar owner and mother of young children) to hear people say that a liquor license shouldn’t be approved near a park where children play. Using phrases such as, “exploiting our neighborhood,” she argued, is over the line in talking about “a guy who has proven he is part of this community.”
MyPhuong Chung, who lives a block away from Forgtmenot and Kiki’s, called the owners, “really wonderful neighbors” and said of Sierros, “He has a track record of running his business responsibly.”
Board member Enrique Cruz said he understood the residents’ concerns but urged them “to be sensible.” Sierros previously agreed to close the restaurant at midnight during the week and at 1 a.m. on weekends. Rejecting the proposal, Cruz cautioned would likely lead to longer hours and no operating restrictions, which the community board routinely negotiates with nightlife operators.
In the end, a majority of the board agreed. Sierros said he would close on Thursdays by midnight, rather than 1 a.m. Board members also asked him to agree to shorter hours on the weekends, but Sierros said he’d already made as many concessions as he could make and still run a viable business. The final decision is, of course, up to the State Liquor Authority.
49 Monroe St., the site of a new restaurant from the Forgtmenot team.
In the past year or two, the Lower East Side’s robust nightlife scene has gradually drifted down below Canal Street. At last night’s meeting of Community Board 3’s State Liquor Authority (SLA) Committee, residents showed up to voice concerns about what they see as a threat to one of the last uncharted areas in all of Manhattan.
The panel ultimately approved a proposal from the Forgtmenot/Kiki’s team to open up a new Southern European establishment at 49 Monroe St. (near Market Street). The fact that these two Division Street spots are seen as community-oriented and unusually responsive to neighbors pushed the application over the top. But there was still a spirited conversation of the potential impact in the Two Bridges neighborhood.
The restaurant will cover the first floor, plus the mezzanine, and include 22 tables and a u-shaped, 40-foot bar. Last night’s presentation was led by co-owner Paul Sierros, who said the building would be fully soundproofed. The team received key support from Emma Culbert, head of the SPaCE Block Association. She lives on Division Street, where Forgtmenot opened in 2012 and Kiki’s debuted last year. Speaking of the owners, Culbert said. “They have been nothing but accommodating.” The staff, she said, is incredibly diligent about keeping noise to a minimum and dealing with late night crowds.
Pamela Yeh of the Orchard Street Block Association also acknowledged that the existing businesses are run responsibly. But she challenged representations about the building’s certificate of occupancy allowing 110 people; (CB3’s district manager said her research found Sierros’ plan is legal.)
Another local resident, a man who lives at 41 Monroe St., said he welcomed the new venue because the area is dangerous after dark and the block would benefit from a nighttime business. But others argued that the location, across from the Coleman Skatepark and a recreational area, is an inappropriate spot for a restaurant serving liquor. A few people mentioned the sceney bar, Mr. Fong’s, which opened last summer and began attracting large crowds almost from the start. Locals, some of them residents of nearby Knickerbocker Village, said they were speaking for Chinese neighbors and seniors who fear going public with their concerns. “Do not mistake silence for support,” one speaker asserted. “The area is diverse, low-income, working class… This is not the kind of community where people need a place to get drunk at 1 a.m.”
Sierros said people waiting for tables would not congregate outside. He also pointed out that the block is not exactly tranquil. One of the reasons he’s soundproofing the building is that the train rumbles across the Manhattan Bridge every two minutes. At the request of the committee, he agreed to close on weekends by 1 a.m. (the application proposed a 1:30 a.m. closing time.
A new plan for the old Winnie’s space (104 Bayard St.)
The former Winnie’s space at 104 Bayard St.
Longtime Chinatown residents came out last night to protest a plan from the team behind the popular Orchard Street cafe, Dudley’s, to open a second restaurant on Bayard Street. While the owners said they were trying to honor the previous establishment, Chinatown mainstay Winnie’s, locals called their plan an insult.
The partners applying for a full bar (and a 4 a.m. closing time) were listed as: Mateusz Lilpop, Ben dos Remedios and Gerardo and William Davidson. Winnie’s, known for its karaoke and very diverse crowd, was forced to close after 28 years when the owner was unable to negotiate a new lease with her landlord. The new team said they wanted to keep the old name and the karaoke as an homage to the original spot, while adding an innovative menu; the chef from El Rey on Stanton Street has been hired to run the kitchen.
But many of last night’s speakers were unimpressed. One lifelong resident of Mulberry Street said he’s tired of the late night crowds coming in from other neighborhoods, of the taxis lined up, of the public urination, etc. Others said they were offended by the use of Winnie’s name. Community Board 3 member Karlin Chan submitted a letter from Winnie, who was sitting in the audience. “A 4 a.m. karaoke bar should set off alarm bells for everyone,” he argued. “This concept does not fit the culture of the neighborhood. You can’t just take someone else’s brand.” Another speaker said, “We don’t need another hipster bar in Chinatown… We don’t need privileged and entitled people exploiting our neighborhood.”
The applicants, however, received an important vote of confidence from Andrew Chase, co-owner of Orchard Street’s Cafe Katja (Chase is a public member of the SLA Committee). He said Dudley’s has a “very subdued clientele” and that the owners do a good job of handling crowds. “I feel they are sensitive to the neighbors,” said Chase.
In the end, committee member Carol Kostik acknowledged the concerns local residents expressed about gentrification. But she added, “I’m not sure we’re the arbiters of ethnic purity” in the neighborhood. The team agreed to drop the “Winnie’s” name, to cut back their weekend closing time to 2 a.m. and to serve a full food menu during all operating hours.
There was more news from the committee last night. Jerome Barnas won approval for his new cafe at 26 Canal St. (at Rutgers Street). The proposal was supported by the SPaCE Block Association. The cafe will open at 7 a.m. daily, offering coffee and an all-day menu. Closing time on weekends is 1 a.m.