Tuesday, April 20, 2010

CB3/SLA highlights: Avenue A fishmonger approved; Michael Huynh's DOB rejected

Here are a few of the highlight's from last night's CB3/SLA meeting...we could only stay for part of the meeting...

• Michael Huynh and his rep were on hand to apply for a beer and wine license at DOB, his newly opened French-Vietnamese eatery at 115 St. Mark's Place.

At first, it looked as if DOB would get a quick rubber stamp. The six-foot bar at DOB has six seats, and is mainly used for people waiting for tables. And no one from the neighborhood was there to speak in opposition of the license. Plus, his eateries are well-known and receive a lot of positive media attention. Board member David McWater seemed ready and eager to approve the license, which is in a resolution area. "I don't want to have a Coke with a $25 Vietnamese meal," he said.

However, several Board members looked through the pile of signatures that Huynh brought, noting there were only 29 signatures from residents who lived on that block from Avenue A to First Avenue. Board chair Alexandra Militano scolded an increasingly incredulous-looking Huynh for not doing better community outreach, something that a well-known restaurateur should know.

She said something like, being so well-known can work against you. The Board voted 3-2 to deny the application. A heated discussion among the Board members followed, with McWater, speaking of Huynh's intentions and credentials, saying, "If this guy doesn't pass, no one is."

Huynh, looking slightly annoyed, quickly left the meeting.

• There was more heated discussions for Keith Masco's seafood market/restaurant/high-end cocktail bar at 171 Avenue A. Masco explained the concept...selling fresh fish in the front of the space during the day ... with room for 48 diners in the back along with a bar selling specialty cocktails. He also has plans to utilize the 400-square-foot garden in the back. He produced signatures from locals who endorsed his plans. Two other residents spoke in favor of it.

While people generally like the idea of a fishmonger in the neighborhood and have nothing against Masco, there was a lot of opposition to another liquor license on this section of Avenue A. The soon-to-open Diablo Royale at 167 Avenue A already has a full liquor license with a backyard operation. Seven people spoke out against granting a license to Masco in this resolution area ... and residents collected 80 signatures in opposition — from every building on the block. Masco said given the challenges of running a seafood operation -- high spoilage, low profit margins among restaurants types -- a liquor license is necessary to make any money.

After hearing all the opposition, McWater spoke. He called Masco, who has lived in the East Village for 30 years, an "honorable" and "respectable" person. McWater also said that he and Masco have been friends for 27 years, since he was a freshman at NYU. "He is one of the best guys that I've even known," McWater said.

Despite the substantial showing of community opposition, the Board voted 4-2 to approve the license. The Board stipulated that the garden space remain closed until Masco proves that he is a good neighbor, and promises to enclose the garden. In addition, the Board suggested that Masco expand the hours that he plans to sell fish, currently from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. or so.

Several of the residents who were against granting the liquor license were outraged. For instance, the motion to approve the resolution was seconded by a Board member who had arrived late to the meeting and didn't hear any of the opposition. With this, it was pointed out several times that there are now six liquor licenses among nine storefronts on Avenue A between 10th Street and 11th Street.

• A karaoke joint at 90 Eldridge St. called Neway KTV was up first for a renewal with a complaint history... and what a complaint history! There were 37 311 calls against them in the last year... One resident described the place as "insane" while another Eldridge Street resident said, "It's a little madhouse." Only making matters worse: The owners, a man and a woman, couldn't even answer the most basic questions, like, when they opened. The Board denied the request for renewal.

• The owners of graffiti and homeless hotspot Caffe Buon Gusto on Avenue B at Fifth Street were no shows... aside from a beer and wine license within a resolution area, they were also on the docket for a sidewalk cafe.

But! Later, the architect representing the eatery for just for the sidewalk cafe arrived... though he couldn't very well make a pitch for a sidewalk cafe when they don't even have a liquor license yet. Plus, the Board said that they had instructed the owner to be present.

• The owners of Ballarò Caffè Prosciutteria on Second Avenue between Fourth Street and Fifth Street were seeking a sidewalk cafe for eight tables and 18 seats. A handful of residents spoke out against yet another sidewalk cafe on this stretch of Second Avenue.

The two owners, one of whom was wearing a Bluetooth the whole time, stood and listened to the ongoing quality-of-life issues caused by so many bars and cafes with outdoor spaces. One resident said that this would create "even more of a disaster" in the neighborhood while another pleaded, "Please have mercy on our community and deny this application." Still another resident said that it was not the responsibility of the neighborhood to make up for a restaurant's poor sales, which is one reason owners often opt for sidewalk cafes to help boost business. "We do not want to trade sleep for their wealth."

Despite the opposition, the Board approved the application, though limiting their hours in the process. The sidewalk cafe will be open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday.

• Ludlow Street's TPoutine was back again in hopes of serving beer and wine within a resolution area. The Board rejected them last month due to a lack of signatures from local neighbors and a history of noise complaints.

Even though the eatery reached out to neighbors in recent weeks, the noise complaints continue to come in, including two yesterday. All this seemed to surprise owner/GM Thierry Pepin. He said that he hasn't heard from anyone. A few Board members concurred: We're getting noise complaints and the place doesn't even serve booze yet.

Pepin was clearly exasperated, saying that he had done anything the Board has asked him to do. One Board member suggested that he remove the speaker by the front door. Someone in the audience wondered why a place that served the French Canadian National Dish, Poutine, needed so many speakers. The Board denied the application.

Eater's Thomas Garry was also at the meeting, and bravely stayed longer... His report is here. The Lo-Down has news on the Meatball Shop and Melted. I'll have more later.


WB said...

The DOB and fishmonger decisions seem rather inconsistent. I like the idea of having a fishmonger in the neighborhood, and it certainly sounds like the place will be run properly. Same with DOB. I don't understand what the issue is. No complaints, but not enough people on the block signing off on it? Why should the block have to show support en masse for someone to open a new restaurant? Obviously there's utility in getting the support of the block, but it shouldn't be a requirement, in my opinion. If you have a complaint history or record of not running establishments properly, that's a different story. But that's not what we have here, from what I understand. Perhaps it won't matter, because the Board decisions are recommendations to the SLA, and not binding.

Has anyone ever sued the Community Board over its recommendations? I don't understand how one can open a bar or restaurant in the neighborhood when the Board recommendations are so inconsistent and arbitrary. But maybe that's the nature of the "resolution area." It changes the equation so that arbitrary decisions are the norm, since the default is to deny unless you impress the Board. Some members of which, I think, come to those meetings with a large chip on the shoulder.

EV Grieve said...

Inconsistency seemed to be the theme last night. Both DOB and Masco's venture are within resolution areas. Why did DOB get sent away for its beer/wine request when no one was there to voice any opposition? And Huynh has been operating restaurants all over the city. I've never heard that he is a bad neighbor. Meanwhile, Masco gets a full liquor license after 7 people passionately spoke out against another liquor license on the block. And, as far as I know, Masco has never operated a restaurant before. He seems like a good guy.

Still, I understand why some people may have the fear. Rapture started out as a gay-themed bookstore/cafe that turned into Superdive.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

Wow, interesting. I agree, the decisions on DOB and the fishmonger conflict. Sounds like someone may have something against Huynh. It's disturbing to hear a license was granted to the fishmonger despite the protests of so many residents in the immediate area.

Where there coin tosses going on under the table?

Anonymous said...

You didn't mention that McWater argued to approve Masco because he's known him since high school.

Also, what annoys me is that nobody has noticed that the fishmonger is going to sell fish at least at $20/pound so those who will benefit will be few and far between. Talk to him about fish, he doesn't know a lot, but he knows where he's buying his fish, and it ain't cheap.

~evilsugar25 said...

Thanks, EV, for going to these meetings and reporting on this; it's absolutely fascinating. I'd like to participate more, but I'm at work the hours that these are being held, so all I have is to read your recaps.

EV Grieve said...

Thanks, ~evilsugar25 ... I find these meeting oddly fascinating..the politics...the psychology... I wish they wouldn't last like 17 hours.

Anonymous said...

I went to the meeting and I just don't get why shouldn't a restaurant have a liquor lisence! This guy is doing us all a favor, there really is nowhere to buy a fish in the East Village! The gentleman who spoke in Masco's favor really rocked the house. Honestly NYC is not a quiet place to live and we all really choose to live here! So those who want to live in a quiet place should move out to the suburbs or to Jersey! Masco seemed like a stand up guy who will keep his word! So what that he had a little help at the meeting, he obviously needed it with all the grudge holders around! Let's add a little variety to the neighborhood!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

The community boards have no legal power. ALL they can do is "recommend" to the various licensing agencis. Sadly the SLA has given too much head to the stetzer/mcwater cabal.
If the owner disagrees with the decision they can still reason with the SLA and if the SLA denies they can file an article 78. There are legal avenues and Community Board 3 is not the decision maker even though they think they are.
Problem here is legal fees but not insurmountable.
China One, false front that it is, is still open.