It was a rough night for the owners of Saluggi’s East at the monthly meeting of Community Board 3’s liquor licensing committee.
Bill Wall and Christopher Keane opened the pizza restaurant and bar at 399 Grand St. this past September. They had struck an agreement with the local SPaCE Block Association to close on weekends at 2 a.m., with the possibility of extending their hours after six months. Last night, they asked CB3 members to support an application to stay open until 4am on all nights.
But the block association is not supporting the change, at least not right now. Marek Schwedt, a consultant representing Saluggi’s, told community board members that Wall and Keane were “tricked by SPaCE” into signing an agreement to limit hours. He called Wall an “exemplary operator” who has run nightlife establishments in Lower Manhattan for more than 40 years. “I detest that SPaCE is painting this (application) as a ‘bait and switch’,” said Schwedt. He claimed that the block association agreed to support an extension of hours after six months. Saluggi’s, the owners say, is suffering because it must kick customers out at 2 a.m., at which point they head right across the street to another bar (La Flaca) that stays open until 4 a.m.
The Saluggi’s team submitted a letter of support from their landlord, the Seward Park Cooperative. Two longtime community members also testified in favor of the application. Bill Frazer, who runs the flower shop across from Saluggi’s, said he eats there about three days a week. “I would hate to see them leave, said Frazer, “after making a place that’s beneficial for the neighborhood.” Don West, president of the 7th Precinct Community Council, agreed that Saluggi’s is running a good, family-oriented business. West, a former board president of the co-op, criticized Seward Park for insisting on a, “very high rent” for the restaurant. Since residents of the Grand Street cooperative tend not to support local businesses, said West, Saluggi’s must attract customers from other parts of the neighborhood, who expect late night hours.
But Emma Culbert, president of SPaCE, said a 4 a.m. permit “is a different beast” than the original concept pitched by Saluggi’s. “There is genuine concern about what it would turn into,” said Culbert, if extended hours are approved. “The creep of nightlife (southward from the area north of Delancey Street) is a constant concern,” she added. Culbert also said SPaCe never agreed to support a 4 a.m. permit after six months, but only agreed to consider it. A representative of the Orchard Street Block Association also spoke out against the proposal.
A community board member, Lisa Kaplan, said she was worried about what happens if Saluggi’s goes out of business. “We don’t know who the next applicant would be,” said Kaplan. [While every new nightlife establishment must apply for a permit from the State Liquor Authority, previously licensed locations are usually approved.]
A public member of the committee, Andrew Chase, also voiced skepticism about the application. Chase lives in the nearby East River Co-op and is co-owner of Cafe Katja on Orchard Street. “This is hard for me to say,” he explained, “but if you are in this for the long haul, you will become successful (without extending your hours).” Chase added, “for me, it’s too much of an ask too soon.”
While acknowledging financial struggles, Christopher Keane, the co-owner, responded that Saluggi’s has no intention of going out of business anytime soon.
Schwedt argued that extended hours could, “mean the difference between life and death,” in a brutal NYC restaurant environment. In the end, though, the owners reluctantly withdrew their application in the face of stiff opposition from board members.