Two bar owners who were hoping to win the support of Community Board 6 for liquor licenses for two planned establishments on Third Avenue wound up being shot down at a recent CB6 committee meeting.
The meeting of the Business and Street Activities (BASA) Committee last Thursday was attended by Gramercy Park residents organized by Gramercy Park Block Association President Arlene Harrison and GPBA Quality of Life Committee Chair Sean Brady who were there to argue that the avenue doesn't exactly have a shortage of watering holes.
The establishments, which were proposed for 274 Third Ave. between East 21st and 22nd St. and 284 Third Ave. between East 22nd and 23rd St., were the focus of the meeting with attendees hoping to get a vote out of the way before a storm began.
James Hendrick, who said he has been a resident of the area for 17 years and owns Tap Room No. 307, and his business partner, Scott Garry, were trying to get approval for the space at 284 Third Ave.
Hendrick, who also owns Bull's Head Tavern and is known for running mainly beer and whiskey bars popular amongst NYU students, said that he wants to make the space into a more quiet wine bar, also open in the morning so residents can come in for a cup of coffee.
"We want to have a café for people to come in the morning, read the paper, have a croissant. That's what it's about," Garry added. "A sophisticated glass of wine, an espresso. I don't want to go where there are a bunch of kids, so we're trying to provide an alternative."
Despite this differentiation, the board said that the 600-square-foot space, with the proposed 20-foot-long bar, was just too physically close and too stylistically similar to its neighboring bars for their intentions to make a difference.
"It sounds like a great idea, but I hate the spot," board member Nicole Paikoff said. "It would be great somewhere else in the neighborhood."
Jon Pirozzi, who has owned Stone Creek Tavern on East 27th Street for seven years, and John Medeiros then pitched making the space at 274 Third Ave. an "upscale" bar. Despite Medeiros and Pirozzi's insistence that the new establishment wouldn't cater to or draw in NYU students, the board agreed with the GPBA that the location makes a huge difference.
Members of the board made a point to say that it didn't necessarily matter what kind of establishment they were trying to run; if it was in that area, which they have said is oversaturated with bars, it's just going to be another stop on the Friday night rotation, regardless of the atmosphere or kind of drinks. As long as alcohol is available, it poses a potential problem, they said.
"You really can't control the clientele. If you put that exact same bar in a different part of the city, it would do very well," Sean Brady, the quality of life committee chair of the GPBA said. "But you wouldn't be able to control who goes in. You'd end up with all the clientele that go to all the bars for the semi-official pub crawl that happens there every Thursday and Friday night."
Steve Dubnoff, vice chair of the BASA committee, expressed a similar sentiment when he said that particular stretch of Third Avenue "has become part of NYU South. It's turned into a strip," he said.
Medeiros and Pirozzi tried to differentiate their business model from a generic bar by including "upscale" menu items and offering a more sophisticated atmosphere. "We don't want to be like the Black Bear Lodge," Pirozzi said, referencing the spot's previous business that was a popular watering hole for NYU students. "That catered to children." But the board was not convinced that the "upscale" designation was enough to control the atmosphere.
"It sounds mostly like a price point," Paikoff said. "Some of the NYU kids have more money than working people in the area, so what differentiates the place and what makes it 'upscale', other than the price?"
Residents from the area who attended the meeting agreed. "I hear the words 'upscale' and I think of a shoe store or some kind of service," one resident said. "It can't be upscale because of the ambience that surrounds that building, with fortune tellers next door." Medeiros and Pirozzi reiterated that the menu and atmosphere would differentiate the establishment, but the board remained unconvinced, noting that the menu resembled generic bar food.
"There's nothing wrong with a couple of watering holes, but that strip has become a zoo," Dubnoff said. "It's subject to the 500 foot rule and I don't see your statement about why it's in the public interest to add to it."
Following the meeting, Arlene Harrison, the GPBA president, sent a letter to BASA Committee Chair Carol Schachter to thank her and the committee for not voting to let the area turn into another "nightlife destination"
"On behalf of the Gramercy Park Block Association's Quality of Life Committee, we wanted to thank you and the BASA Committee from the bottom of our hearts for keeping our already oversaturated neighborhood from becoming a nightlife destination similar to the Meatpacking District," Harrison wrote.
"While we don't object to liquor licenses for real restaurants which focus on food first and alcohol second, as you know, we already have more than a dozen drinking establishments in a two block radius. This concentration of bars does not serve the neighborhood but instead serves the needs of the itinerant drinking crowd from all over the city. As a result, businesses serving the local community are at risk of being forced out as rents rise to reflect the higher earning power that liquor licenses in a nightlife district can provide. The last thing this neighborhood needs is yet another bar catering to the endless flow of nightlife-seekers crawling up and down Third Ave. every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night."
However, the BASA's advisory word is not the final word on the matter.
According to CB6 Chair Mark Thompson, an executive meeting will be held on August 15 where there will be another vote on the bar issue as well as other issues. The results will then be sent in to the State Liquor Authority, who usually, but doesn't always, side with community boards. The issue will also be voted on at the full CB6 meeting in September, but in order for the community to have a voice in the matter, the votes need to be officially counted by an application deadline set by the SLA.