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CB3 Panel Rejects Mamajuana Team’s Plans for Old Tonic Space

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Last night, the guys behind Mamajuana, who want to open a version of a popular Inwood restaurant in the old “Tonic” space, had a rough time before Community Board 3’s SLA Committee.  The panel voted 5-3 to deny their request for a new liquor license at 107 Norfolk, a building that has been idled since the popular music venue was closed three years ago.

CB3 cited a number of concerns, including reports from Washington Heights about noise complaints at the uptown location. David Cook, a longtime LES resident, said he was worried about crowd control and traffic backups on Norfolk, a narrow street that’s already home to several establishments (Schiller’s, the Back Room, Nurse Betty).

Susan Stetzer, CB3’s district manager, said it’s not at all clear 107 Norfolk can be used for any bar or restaurant. City records, she said, show Tonic never got the proper permits to operate — and the building might not be zoned for commercial uses.

A couple of months ago, the community board approved another application at this address from Paris-based Dans le Noir, a “blind dining restaurant.” Ultimately, the operators of that venture abandoned 107 Norfolk for Tribeca, apparently due to a dispute over rent and/or property taxes.  Last night, the Mamajuana team wanted to know why CB3 signed off on the earlier proposal, but not theirs.

Victor Santos, the general manager, and two partners (both of whom said they have deep LES roots), were incredulous. “We’re from the neighborhood. I don’t understand this. You approve a guy from France?,” they complained.  They also said the downtown operation is completely separate from the Inwood Mamajuana. And the partners emphasized their good deeds on the Lower East Side (they mentioned toy giveaways and fundraisers). Santos, who has served as general manager at the Inwood location, said he intended to install at least 20 surveillance cameras and to hire ample security  (at least two of the partners are former police officers).

Panel members were not able to explain why Dans Le Noir was approved and Mamajuana rejected.  Following the hearing, Santos and his team vented their frustrations outside the meeting room. While they remain confident the State Liquor Authority will approve Mamajuana’s application, Santos said he wanted the community board’s support.  At least one partner has businesses on the LES and said he continues to live in the neighborhood. “We wanted the board’s blessing,” they said.

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