One person with more than a passing interest in tomorrow night’s Community Board 3 meeting is this man – Rafik Bouzgarrou, the owner of Angelina Cafe, located at 36 Avenue A. No, he’s not applying for or trying to renew a liquor license. Instead, Rafik’s modest neighborhood spot has become part of the conversation about the controversial proposal for a bar/restaurant/performance space next door, at 34 Avenue A.
Last week, CB3’s SLA Committee failed to agree on a resolution of support or opposition for “Piney Woods,” a new concept from Lower East Side restauranteur Phil Hartman and music promoter Todd Patrick. So it will be up to the full board to decide what to do tomorrow evening about the latest plan for the infamous “Aces & Eights” space (which was also the onetime home of Mo’ Pitkins).
Commenting on EV Grieve’s latest story on the 34 Avenue A saga, a few readers took exception to remarks made by Patrick indicating that Angelina would be closing. One excerpt:
I was sitting behind that guy Todd and couldn’t believe what he said about Cafe Angelina. I love Angelina – they are a real restaurant with reasonable hours, good food, good prices and guess what they don’t have a full liquor license. So this guy who isn’t even from the LES is gonna pull in and open up right next door and get a full liquor and drive Angelina out of business. How obnoxious and audacious is that.
Yesterday, I stopped by Angelina Cafe to see what Rafik had to say about all of this. First off, he told me there are no plans to close the restaurant. Second, Rafik finds the notion that the place next door might have a full liquor license a bit galling.
In the eight years he’s run Angelina, Rafik said he’d resisted raising prices unless it was absolutely necessary. Nothing on the Mediterranean-influenced menu costs more than $17.95 — most items are a lot less. At one point, he went to the community board to explore the possibility of upgrading his liquor license from a beer/wine permit to a full bar. It’s a change that could have made a substantial difference to his bottom line (some people walk out as soon as they learn there’s no hard liquor). But Rafik said he dropped the idea when it was made clear to him that some CB3 members would be opposed.
Aces & Eights, Rafik said, was nothing but trouble. He was constantly chasing smokers away from his front door and picking up garbage dropped on the sidewalk by the bar’s customers.
He finds it gratifying that so many of his loyal customers are concerned about Angelina’s well-being. “They care about me and I care about them,” Rafik said. The truth is, keeping the restaurant afloat in a tough economy is a struggle. Angelina’s real estate taxes (passed on by the property owner) alone are crushing (they were $2,000 eight years ago, and $35,000 today).
Rafik worries that a competitor next door with a full liquor license and a 50% discount for neighborhood residents (which the Piney Woods team has promised) would put him under.