Residents of the Lower East side came out in force last night to oppose several restaurants seeking liquor licenses. It was a tense night full of face to face confrontations between those residents and restaurant owners. Community Board 3 members serving on the alcohol licensing committee struggled to find the right balance between the two groups.
The largest and most organized opposition came from the residents surrounding a new restaurant planned for the corner of Essex and Canal. As we reported Sunday, the East Canal Neighborhood Association is determined to prevent their block from becoming a “mini-Ludlow,” littered with bars, plagued with late night noise and bursting with drunken crowds. The restaurant’s backers own the building, and have leased space to a green grocer and a shoe store. They hope to open a “family friendly” restaurant patterned after the restaurant at the Inn at Irving Place, which they also own. In explaining their rationale for a full liquor license, they said they wanted to attract a “European clientele.”
The residents, many of whom live in the luxury building next door, 7 Essex, complained that the concept sounded too much like Les Enfants Terribles, the restaurant and popular late night hangout at the opposite end of the block. Committee member Meghan Joye said, as a bar owner and mother, she resented the fact that the group presented letters from school principals and mothers concerned about the restaurant’s impact on their kids. Joye added, “they’re not going to be selling coke on the street.”
Chair Alexandra Militano said the overwhelming opposition left the committee with little choice but to reject the liquor license application but she called the predicament “unfortunate.” She said it was extraordinary that the owners had found a grocer to move into the building – no landlord wants a grocery, “they don’t make money,” she said. The applicant said finding quality tenants had been difficult – only fast food operations like KFC and Dunkin’ Donuts had expressed interest.
Amy Carlson, representing the residents responded that they had no desire “to do a disservice to the community.” But she also said they did not want to negotiate a compromise. The committee scolded both sides for failing to work out their differences in advance.
The opposition to another project a short distance away, Grand Park (365 Grand), was not as large or organized but every bit as passionate. Jesse Hartman wants to take over the “Isabella’s Oven” location, enclosing the outdoor patio to cut down on noise and making the dining area usable all year. Hartman told the committee he saw it as a “Tavern on the Green for the Lower East Side” on a “scary little stretch of Grand Street.” The small indoor space would be used primarily as a bar.
Residents of the Seward Park Co-op said they were worried that, even with the enclosure, noise echoing from the patio would be a major problem. The committee noted that there were complaints when Isabella’s was still in business. Neighbors questioned the full liquor license, as opposed to just beer and wine – and they were skeptical of the 4am closing time Hartman is requesting. One woman said she was nervous about a late night bar crowd making the stretch of Grand Street in front of the restaurant unsafe.
Hartman said he was committed to working with his neighbors to alleviate their concerns about the noise. He agreed to withdraw his application to give them time to talk and to consult an architect about soundproofing the patio.
Opponents of both projects said they didn’t want to see their blocks become like Rivington, Ludlow or Clinton. Committee member Noah Yago told them the community board was mindful of concerns that more bars are migrating to the the area below Delancey. Earlier in the evening, the impact of bars on residents in the heart of the neighborhood’s night scene, was on vivid display.
Members of the community spoke out forcefully against a request from Spitzer’s Corner to add sidewalk seating on Ludlow Street. One resident said there are so many people crowded around the restaurant in the evening he can barely get in his apartment, people “puke in the streets” on a regular basis and he’s seen fights break out. Committee Chair Militano said she was concerned about four citations in a year for serving liquor to underage drinkers. The panel, noting that they were already on record opposing outdoor seating at Spitzer’s Corner, denied the request.
Another restaurant up the street, T Poutine on Ludlow, did not fare any better (see our Monday post.) The committee chastised the owners, French Canadians, for failing to check CB3 guidelines prohibiting new liquor licenses in bar-dense strips in the LES and East Village. One of the owners lamented, “I put everything I had into it.”
At the end of the evening an exasperated Militano, expressing the difficulty of mediating between insistent restaurant operators and residents, said “everyone here wants us to feel their plight.” Adding that board members sit through marathon meetings (4 hours +), she asserted that the committee listens to the community. “We denied most of the items on the agenda tonight,” she said.
The committee’s recommendations will be forwarded to the full community board. The State Liquor Authority has the final say.