At CB3 Liquor Meeting, a Rough Night For the New Team in Le Baron Space

32 Mulberry St.

32 Mulberry St.

Something possessed us to stop by Community Board 3’s liquor permit hearing last night (we will never learn). Here’s what happened during the three hours we were there.

The applicants of a Japanese restaurant in the the old Le Baron night club space on Mulberry Street were forced to withdraw their application. Jake Smith, a former television producer, is partnering with Kazuo Yoshida of the highly regarded Williamsburg sushi spot, 1 or 8.

Smith said he wanted to open a high-quality izakaya, including a small omakase bar and a more accessible (affordable) dining room. The place would be open until 4 a.m., catering to restaurant industry types. But Chinatown neighbors, including community board member Karlin Chan, lobbied against the application. They have bad memories of the now shuttered Le Baron, which they say brought noise, black cars and many disrespectful interlopers to Mulberry Street.

Gianni Cionchi (who works for a well-known Manhattan restaurant group) spoke in favor of the concept, but did more harm than good. Apparently trying to counter fears that the restaurant would morph into another club, Cionchi said the new venture would bring “an elevated dining experience” to Chinatown. It wouldn’t be catering to a “low-income clientele,” he added, alluding to the historic demographic makeup of the neighborhood. These comments did not sit well with Community Board 3 Chairperson Gigi Li, a Chinatown resident. “There are about 10 things you just said that were extremely offensive,” she told Cionchi (he later apologized for the statements). 

Li said she was concerned that the applicants failed to do enough community outreach. She also expressed worries about Smith’s co-applicant, Ron Castellano, who was one of the partners of Le Baron. There were questions, as well, about another partner, Max Levai, an owner of the controversial club, Happy Ending. Smith and Castellano said Levai (an art world insider) had agreed to supply art for the new restaurant in exchange for part ownership in the business. Castellano is a well-known figure on the Lower East Side. In addition to his nightlife ventures, he’s responsible for restoring The Forward Building and the Jarmulowsky Bank Building, and for starting the Hester Street Fair. He said the complaints about Le Baron were unwarranted.

In the end, Li persuaded Smith to withdraw his community board application. She encouraged him to become more familiar with the neighborhood and to reach out to more local residents before taking another run at a liquor permit. Committee Chair Alex Militano said the State Liquor Authority would likely be looking into whether a new permit at 32 Mulberry St. would violate the 200 Foot Rule. That provision of state law prohibits full liquor licenses within 200 feet of churches and school buildings. There are at least two churches in close proximity.

In other news last night, the committee approved a permit for Saluggi’s, the new Italian restaurant coming to 399 Grand St.  Closing hours will be 1 a.m. weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends. Owner Bill Wall said he would come back to the board at a later date for permission to use a patio located in front of the restaurant.

Also, the large restaurant group that runs Serafina won approval for a branch of the Italian restaurant at 98 Rivington St. Although the applicants sought later hours, the committee agreed to a 2 a.m. closing time on weekends.

Finally, the committee gave approval to hotel magnate Ian Schrager for his nightlife multiplex at 215 Chrystie St. The new Public Hotel, built on the former garden of an affordable housing complex, will boast 11 liquor permits. Most of the details were worked out between the Schrager team and community board members last month. But the applicants returned with several alterations in the agreement meant to give them more flexibility.


Seven New Members Join Community Board 3

Alan van Cappelle.

Alan van Cappelle.

Usually at about this time, the Manhattan Borough President’s Office puts out a master list of annual community board appointments. We haven’t seen this year’s version, but the new appointees have been added to Community Board 3’s website. So here you go:

Alan van Cappelle has been president and CEO of Education Alliance since 2014. Previously, he headed the Empire State Pride Agenda and Bend the Arc, a Jewish organization dedicated to social justice. Van Cappelle lives in the Grand Street cooperatives with his husband and two children.

Christian De Leon is a program coordinator for the YMCA and a former Community Board 3 intern. He’s an urban studies major at CUNY Hunter.

Veronica Leventhal is a Beacon program director at University Settlement, based at East Side Community High School.

Wilda Escarfuller is a writer who graduated from Columbia University with a master’s degree in Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

Robin Schatell is director of public programs at the Madison Park Conservancy. She’s also an occasional arts contributor to The Lo-Down. Schatell lives on Grand Street.

Joyce Ravitz is a longtime community activist who previously served on CB3, and is now rejoining the board.

Sameh Jacob is a former owner of Le Souk, a controversial restaurant that was first located on Avenue B, and is now on LaGuardia Place. His name was invoked during a liquor committee meeting earlier this week.

It’s going to be a year of change at Community Board 3. Chairperson Gigi Li is stepping down after leading the board for four years. She’ll be a candidate in the Democratic Primary coming up in September in the 65th Assembly District. The 50 members of CB3 will elect a new chair this summer.

Police, Fire Officials Endorse Applicant of New St. Mark’s Place Restaurant

Letter via Community Board 3 liquor license application.

Letter via Community Board 3 liquor license application.

There are a few items of interest on the agenda for Community Board 3’s February liquor permit meeting.

As EV Grieve noted yesterday, James Morrissey of the Late Late on East Houston St. and Gerard McNamee of Webster Hall will pitch plans for a new place called “The Honey Fitz” at 129 St. Mark’s Place (Avenue A). The space would be created by combining Nino’s Pizza (closed since October due to a gas leak) and the former Hop Devil Grill.

The application includes several letters of support from local residents. But notably there are also testimonials from officials in the Ninth Precinct and the fire department’s Engine Company 33.

The letter from Lieut. Patrick Ferguson, who heads special operations at the Ninth Precinct, is dated July 24 of last year. It serves as a general recommendation for McNamee, Webster Hall’s director of operations. “Mr. McNamee,” wrote Ferguson, “is a true professional and runs Webster Hall in a professional manner. He has constantly maintained an excellent working relationship with the Ninth Precinct and with the community for the past eight years.”

In an undated letter, Captain Timothy McGuiness of the FDNY writes, “One business that is operated by a no-nonsense  professional is Webster Hall… run by Gerard McNamee… Gerard is respectful and responsible and is eager to help us achieve our goal whether it be anything from a medical call or an investigation of routine alarm.”

It might not be unheard of  — but written endorsements of nightlife operators from the local police and fire departments are at least somewhat unusual. Here’s the full application if you’d like to have a look.

After Heated Debate, CB3 Approves Liquor Permit For New Restaurant From Forgtmenot Team

49 Monroe St., the site of a new restaurant from the Forgtmenot team.

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.

CB3 Tells City: Commit to Real Community Role in Deciding Fate of Former Trolley Space

Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal space. Photo: NYC EDC.

Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal space. Photo: NYC EDC.

Members of Community Board 3’s land use committee last night pressed city officials for a more robust role in deciding the future of the former Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal below Delancey Street.

In November, the Economic Development Corp. (EDC) put out a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) for the site. After the community board complained about a lack of local consultation by the city, the EDC extended the deadline for submissions from Dec. 23 to Feb. 1. Last night, EDC Assistant Vice President Lusheena Warner and Merik Mulcahy, an associate who drafted the document, came to CB3’s land use committee to talk with board members about their concerns.

The forgotten trolley terminal space was not on anyone’s radar until September of 2011 when James Ramsey and Dan Barasch went public with their proposal to create an underground park using sunlight channeling technology (The Lowline). They have spent the past four years lobbying the MTA, which controlled the 60,000 sq. ft. terminal. It was a surprise to everyone two months ago when the city announced that it would be seeking proposals from interested developers. The RFEI asks for “plans involving the long-term lease and activation” of the site with an eye towards enhancing “connections to, and accessibility for, the surrounding community;” meeting community needs; and promoting economic development.

Lowline rendering by James Ramsey.

Lowline rendering by James Ramsey.

Last night, land use committee members said they appreciated the extension of time but also called for a lot more outreach in the community. One meeting, they told the officials, is just not enough.

The key question, said board member Damaris Reyes, is, “What constitutes a ‘community benefit’ in the publicly-owned site?” “Who gets to decide?,” she asked. She said the board has asked for a true community-driven process that goes well beyond the membership of the land use committee.

In response, Warner acknowledged the concerns and said. “There is definitely a role for the community.” When Reyes coyly asked, “Did you say you would involve us in the selection process?,” Warner replied, “I did not say that.” The officials said they would come back to the community board to “talk about the proposals.” But citing the city’s confidentiality rules for public bids, they said it would not be possible to discuss specific applicants. “We are not trying to select someone behind you back,” added Warner.

Committee members agreed that it was premature to tell the city their preferences for the space below Delancey Street. They pointed out that little is publicly known about the engineering constraints of a site that’s been dormant since 1947. “It’s not quite right,” said Harriet Cohen, “to start throwing around a lot of ideas” in the absence of details about what’s possible “in this very specific piece of real estate.” The EDC team acknowledged that there would be no city-driven analysis of the site; they’re relying on applicants to spell out what they think is feasible.

Dominic Berg, a former board chairperson, strongly encouraged the city to work with CB3 on a series of workshops/visioning sessions to solicit opinions about the site. “It will be easier for the EDC to have community buy-in (for the project that’s ultimately chosen) if we have workshops,” said Berg. “The EDC really needs to plan for that. Short of doing that, you’re going to hit a wall.” Mentioning that he’s been supportive of the Lowline, Berg acknowledged there could be other good ideas. “Everyone should understand the options,” he said.

Last month, CB3 approved a resolution urging the city to rescind the RFEI, giving the local community an opportunity to reshape the document to its liking. Warner made it clear the city would not be entertaining further delays. But she suggested there would be many more opportunities for community engagement. She was noncommittal about workshops, but said it’s something the EDC would consider.

After proposals are received, the city could take a variety of steps to activate the space. Last night, the officials said the site would be subject to ULURP, the city’s land use approval process. It requires consultations with the community boards and borough president, and the approval of the City Council. It remains to be seen whether the city will issue a separate Request for Proposals (RFP), or begin negotiations with a developer responding to the RFEI.

A new resolution approved by the committee last night called for a real “community process” to develop local priorities for the site and to guide the selection of a developer. It memorialized EDC’s commitment to come back to the board with information about proposals under consideration. And the resolution stated that community engagement should inform both the selection process as well as the implementation of the winning proposal.

The elephant in the room last night was, of course, The Lowline itself. Some members of the panel are supporters of the underground park proposal. Others are skeptical of its merits. But that debate will take place another day. First, the community board wants guidance from the EDC about the range of possibilities in the former trolley space. Then it will start to develop guidelines. It has been three years since the board voted unanimously in support of the Lowline project. Eventually, board members will be called on to reaffirm their support or to reverse their earlier position.

New Restaurants From Forgtmenot, Dudley’s Teams Get Green Light From CB3 Panel

49 Monroe St., the site of a new restaurant from the Forgtmenot team.

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.

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.

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