In the past year or two, the Lower East Side’s robust nightlife scene has gradually drifted down below Canal Street. At last night’s meeting of Community Board 3’s State Liquor Authority (SLA) Committee, residents showed up to voice concerns about what they see as a threat to one of the last uncharted areas in all of Manhattan.
The panel ultimately approved a proposal from the Forgtmenot/Kiki’s team to open up a new Southern European establishment at 49 Monroe St. (near Market Street). The fact that these two Division Street spots are seen as community-oriented and unusually responsive to neighbors pushed the application over the top. But there was still a spirited conversation of the potential impact in the Two Bridges neighborhood.
The restaurant will cover the first floor, plus the mezzanine, and include 22 tables and a u-shaped, 40-foot bar. Last night’s presentation was led by co-owner Paul Sierros, who said the building would be fully soundproofed. The team received key support from Emma Culbert, head of the SPaCE Block Association. She lives on Division Street, where Forgtmenot opened in 2012 and Kiki’s debuted last year. Speaking of the owners, Culbert said. “They have been nothing but accommodating.” The staff, she said, is incredibly diligent about keeping noise to a minimum and dealing with late night crowds.
Pamela Yeh of the Orchard Street Block Association also acknowledged that the existing businesses are run responsibly. But she challenged representations about the building’s certificate of occupancy allowing 110 people; (CB3’s district manager said her research found Sierros’ plan is legal.)
Another local resident, a man who lives at 41 Monroe St., said he welcomed the new venue because the area is dangerous after dark and the block would benefit from a nighttime business. But others argued that the location, across from the Coleman Skatepark and a recreational area, is an inappropriate spot for a restaurant serving liquor. A few people mentioned the sceney bar, Mr. Fong’s, which opened last summer and began attracting large crowds almost from the start. Locals, some of them residents of nearby Knickerbocker Village, said they were speaking for Chinese neighbors and seniors who fear going public with their concerns. “Do not mistake silence for support,” one speaker asserted. “The area is diverse, low-income, working class… This is not the kind of community where people need a place to get drunk at 1 a.m.”
Sierros said people waiting for tables would not congregate outside. He also pointed out that the block is not exactly tranquil. One of the reasons he’s soundproofing the building is that the train rumbles across the Manhattan Bridge every two minutes. At the request of the committee, he agreed to close on weekends by 1 a.m. (the application proposed a 1:30 a.m. closing time.
A new plan for the old Winnie’s space (104 Bayard St.)
Longtime Chinatown residents came out last night to protest a plan from the team behind the popular Orchard Street cafe, Dudley’s, to open a second restaurant on Bayard Street. While the owners said they were trying to honor the previous establishment, Chinatown mainstay Winnie’s, locals called their plan an insult.
The partners applying for a full bar (and a 4 a.m. closing time) were listed as: Mateusz Lilpop, Ben dos Remedios and Gerardo and William Davidson. Winnie’s, known for its karaoke and very diverse crowd, was forced to close after 28 years when the owner was unable to negotiate a new lease with her landlord. The new team said they wanted to keep the old name and the karaoke as an homage to the original spot, while adding an innovative menu; the chef from El Rey on Stanton Street has been hired to run the kitchen.
But many of last night’s speakers were unimpressed. One lifelong resident of Mulberry Street said he’s tired of the late night crowds coming in from other neighborhoods, of the taxis lined up, of the public urination, etc. Others said they were offended by the use of Winnie’s name. Community Board 3 member Karlin Chan submitted a letter from Winnie, who was sitting in the audience. “A 4 a.m. karaoke bar should set off alarm bells for everyone,” he argued. “This concept does not fit the culture of the neighborhood. You can’t just take someone else’s brand.” Another speaker said, “We don’t need another hipster bar in Chinatown… We don’t need privileged and entitled people exploiting our neighborhood.”
The applicants, however, received an important vote of confidence from Andrew Chase, co-owner of Orchard Street’s Cafe Katja (Chase is a public member of the SLA Committee). He said Dudley’s has a “very subdued clientele” and that the owners do a good job of handling crowds. “I feel they are sensitive to the neighbors,” said Chase.
In the end, committee member Carol Kostik acknowledged the concerns local residents expressed about gentrification. But she added, “I’m not sure we’re the arbiters of ethnic purity” in the neighborhood. The team agreed to drop the “Winnie’s” name, to cut back their weekend closing time to 2 a.m. and to serve a full food menu during all operating hours.
There was more news from the committee last night. Jerome Barnas won approval for his new cafe at 26 Canal St. (at Rutgers Street). The proposal was supported by the SPaCE Block Association. The cafe will open at 7 a.m. daily, offering coffee and an all-day menu. Closing time on weekends is 1 a.m.