Community Board 3’s liquor licensing committee last night voted against a proposal for a nearly 200-seat restaurant called “Chinese Tuxedo” at 5 Doyers St. Members of the board’s “State Liquor Authority” panel said the scale of the project was simply too large on one of Chinatown’s smallest streets.
Eddy Buckingham, who runs The Liberty in Midtown, and Jeff Lam, a Chinatown-based contractor, were hoping to bring their concept for a high quality Cantonese restaurant with a cocktail program featuring herbal teas to the neighborhood. The former Chinese theater space, they said, would be transformed in a business meant to pay tribute to the neighborhood’s traditions.
Several people spoke in opposition. Wilson Tang, owner of the neighboring Nom Wah Tea Parlor (13 Doyers St.) said the narrow, one-way block is already overburdened. Two nightlife-centric businesses, Apotheke and Pulqueria, are already located on the historic street. Tang, a former community board member, submitted photos showing the scene on Doyers during a weekend evening. “It gets pretty rowdy,” he explained. Tang asked the board to impose operating restrictions limiting “Chinese Tuxedo’s” hours.
Another speaker, CB3 member Karlin Chan, said a beer and wine permit would be acceptable, but he opposed a full bar. “This seems like a thinly veiled effort to open a club,” he told committee members. Chan noted that late night revelers often circulate, bottles in hand, from destinations such as Le Baron (on Mulberry Street) and Apotheke. He expressed concern that another nightlife spot would be “a little too much for there residents” who live on Doyers Street. One of those residents, Henry Chang, also spoke out, saying outsiders “exploit the neighborhood” and “turn it into their own personal theme park.”
Finally, a letter in opposition was read from CB3 Chairperson Gigi Li, who lives around the corner from the proposed restaurant (Li was unable to attend the meeting because she’s out of the country). She wrote that the scale of the establishment is too large for Doyers Street and that the business would be more appropriate on a wider block that can handle the influx of crowds.
Andrew Chase, a new public member of the committee and co-owner of Orchard Street’s Cafe Katja, said the concept looked promising. But he added, “Guys as a resident of the community, I just can’t see it on that block. It’s already been totally changed by Apotheke. 200 seats? What’s going to happen there?”
Jeff Lam, explaining that he was born and raised in Chinatown, said the time has come for a new type of Chinese restaurant in the neighborhood. Business, he said, was battered in the aftermath of 9/11 and has never fully recovered. “We need mainstream customers (non-Chinese) to come to Chinatown… You can’t say you don’t allow people to come (to the neighborhood),” Lam argued. The restaurant, he added, would offer good food and atmosphere, a combination lacking in Chinatown, while retaining the “unique experience” that Chinatown offers. Buckingham said the team looked at dozens of locations, finally settling on Doyers Street because, “It’s special to us. We want to create a unique identity.” He said Chinese Tuxedo would be a restaurant, not a nightlife venue.
Committee members asked whether Buckingham and Lam would accept a beer and wine permit. While they were willing to compromise on operating hours (11 p.m. closing weekdays/1 a.m. weekends), they said a project on such a large scale required a full bar in order to be financially viable.
The community board’s decision is not binding. It’s up to the State Liquor Authority (SLA) to decide whether to grant the permit. Because there are three or more existing licenses within 500 feet, the SLA is legally required to hold a public hearing.