At CB3 Liquor Meeting, a Rough Night For the New Team in Le Baron Space

32 Mulberry St.
32 Mulberry St.
32 Mulberry St.

Something possessed us to stop by Community Board 3’s liquor permit hearing last night (we will never learn). Here’s what happened during the three hours we were there.

The applicants of a Japanese restaurant in the the old Le Baron night club space on Mulberry Street were forced to withdraw their application. Jake Smith, a former television producer, is partnering with Kazuo Yoshida of the highly regarded Williamsburg sushi spot, 1 or 8.

Smith said he wanted to open a high-quality izakaya, including a small omakase bar and a more accessible (affordable) dining room. The place would be open until 4 a.m., catering to restaurant industry types. But Chinatown neighbors, including community board member Karlin Chan, lobbied against the application. They have bad memories of the now shuttered Le Baron, which they say brought noise, black cars and many disrespectful interlopers to Mulberry Street.

Gianni Cionchi (who works for a well-known Manhattan restaurant group) spoke in favor of the concept, but did more harm than good. Apparently trying to counter fears that the restaurant would morph into another club, Cionchi said the new venture would bring “an elevated dining experience” to Chinatown. It wouldn’t be catering to a “low-income clientele,” he added, alluding to the historic demographic makeup of the neighborhood. These comments did not sit well with Community Board 3 Chairperson Gigi Li, a Chinatown resident. “There are about 10 things you just said that were extremely offensive,” she told Cionchi (he later apologized for the statements). 

Li said she was concerned that the applicants failed to do enough community outreach. She also expressed worries about Smith’s co-applicant, Ron Castellano, who was one of the partners of Le Baron. There were questions, as well, about another partner, Max Levai, an owner of the controversial club, Happy Ending. Smith and Castellano said Levai (an art world insider) had agreed to supply art for the new restaurant in exchange for part ownership in the business. Castellano is a well-known figure on the Lower East Side. In addition to his nightlife ventures, he’s responsible for restoring The Forward Building and the Jarmulowsky Bank Building, and for starting the Hester Street Fair. He said the complaints about Le Baron were unwarranted.

In the end, Li persuaded Smith to withdraw his community board application. She encouraged him to become more familiar with the neighborhood and to reach out to more local residents before taking another run at a liquor permit. Committee Chair Alex Militano said the State Liquor Authority would likely be looking into whether a new permit at 32 Mulberry St. would violate the 200 Foot Rule. That provision of state law prohibits full liquor licenses within 200 feet of churches and school buildings. There are at least two churches in close proximity.

In other news last night, the committee approved a permit for Saluggi’s, the new Italian restaurant coming to 399 Grand St.  Closing hours will be 1 a.m. weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends. Owner Bill Wall said he would come back to the board at a later date for permission to use a patio located in front of the restaurant.

Also, the large restaurant group that runs Serafina won approval for a branch of the Italian restaurant at 98 Rivington St. Although the applicants sought later hours, the committee agreed to a 2 a.m. closing time on weekends.

Finally, the committee gave approval to hotel magnate Ian Schrager for his nightlife multiplex at 215 Chrystie St. The new Public Hotel, built on the former garden of an affordable housing complex, will boast 11 liquor permits. Most of the details were worked out between the Schrager team and community board members last month. But the applicants returned with several alterations in the agreement meant to give them more flexibility.