Residents Oppose New Restaurant on Canal Street

A neighborhood group on Canal Street is mobilizing to oppose a new restaurant’s quest for a liquor license, saying they don’t want to see their block become a “bar scene.” The owners of the restaurant at 1 Essex (Essex & Canal) and their detractors will go before the liquor licensing committee of Community Board 3 tomorrow night.

The committee, noting no opposition from the community, signaled its support last month for a license to sell wine only.  The application for “1 Essex” was mistakenly removed from the published agenda and then added back on shortly before the meeting began. Amy Carlson, speaking for the neighborhood group, appealed to the full board of CB3, arguing that they would have showed up to voice their opposition if they’d known the application was being considered.  CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer says the restaurant withdrew its application and will re-apply for a full liquor license tomorrow night.

The backers of the restaurant own the Inn at Irving Place, which includes the cocktail lounge Cibar. They did not return our phone calls. But in their original application, they said the new venture will be a  family friendly restaurant emphasizing organic food (“Jewish fusion,” they called it), not a nightlife destination catering to hipsters in search of the latest hot spot. See our previous coverage here and here.

Carlson says she is not “anti-bar” and wants to support the restaurant, but does not want to see her block become another “Rivington” or “Ludlow,” overtaken by hipster hangouts. Les Enfants Terribles and Clandestino are already on Canal between Essex and Ludlow. Bar 169, Broadway East, Bacaro, Brown, White Star and East Side Company Bar are all in the immediate area.

State law prohibits the awarding of a liquor license if there are already three restaurants or bars within a 500 foot radius with licenses. An exception can be made if it’s “in the public interest,” but there’s disagreement about what that means.

The State Liquor Authority decides whether to grant license requests, but they take the community board’s opinions into account. The board struggles to manage the perils and opportunities of gentrification. At last month’s meeting, a few community activists from the East Village urged CB3 to maintain a hard line against restaurants and bars in over-saturated areas.

The committee rejected Butcher Bay’s (East 5th Street) application to upgrade from wine only to a full liquor license, citing the huge number of bars and restaurants in the area. Adam Cohn of Butcher Bay argued that, even a neighborhood restaurant like his, is hard pressed to make it in New York if it can’t sell booze. Committee member Meghan Joye has asserted on more than one occasion that a balance needs to be found between protecting neighborhoods from over-development and supporting small businesses, like bars and restaurants.

Amy Carlson of the Canal Street neighborhood group says she moved below Delancey, specifically to get away from the raucous party scene that much of the Lower East Side has become. There’s a spirited conversation in the community about how many restaurants are too many. Another business going before the committee tomorrow night, Grand Park, does not appear to have organized opposition. The owner, Jesse Hartman, says he has close to 200 signatures in support of the Italian restaurant at 365 Grand, the old “Isabella’s Oven” location. He also has a supportive letter from the Seward Park Housing Corporation, which owns the space.

As for “1 Essex,” Carlson Has been talking with its backers and they planned to tour the location yesterday. Among her concerns, whether the restaurant plans to use a patio in the summer months. Carlson says there are already noise complaints about some of the other restaurants in the area.  She suggested they open without a liquor license, gain a good reputation in the community – and then ask for permission to serve alcohol.

The liquor licensing committee of CB3 meets at 630pm tomorrow at the JASA/Green Residence, 200 East 5th Street (Bowery). You can see the full agenda here.