Last month, we told you that Marcello Assante has plans to open a cafe-cinema at 44 Avenue A, the former home of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater's East Village outpost, UCBeast, as well as the Pioneer Theater.
The space on Avenue A, equipped with a movie screen, stage and theater seats for 100 people, seems suited to Assante's vision of creating a "big cinema culture" — a center for cinephiles to enjoy foreign and independent features.
Aside from new indie and foreign releases, Cinema Paradiso would also include a cafe for people to have a pre-or post-film meal and drink. He aspires to have the food and beverage service open during non-movie times too. (Assante, a Naples native, has owned and operated a handful of restaurants through the years, including Bella Ciao, Capri Ristorante and Marcellino in Little Italy as well as Local 92 on Second Avenue.)
He appeared before CB3's SLA committee on May 10 for a new liquor license for the venue at Third Street. Things did not go in his favor, as the four committee members and District Manager Susan Stetzer pushed back on the application, asking for more specifics about his plans. (Assante had said he wasn't sure if he'd serve drinks during the screenings, for example.)
In addition, the last tenant, UCBeast, only sold beer and wine, and the address was never fully licensed. They were also apparently a bad neighbor — at least the bar portion of the business. Stetzer, who resides nearby, said that the bar had a "horrible impact" on tenants living across the street. "The history of it was horrendous," she said during the virtual meeting. "I had constant complaints."
Given that, Stetzer, speaking as a resident and not the district manager, collected six signatures in opposition to Assante's application. (She said she only started gathering them the evening before the May 10 meeting.)
In the end, the CB3 committee wasn't opposed to the theater portion of the business. The space never being fully licensed, the UCBeast bar's poor reputation and the unanswered questions on the business plan moved the members to draft stipulations stating they'd approve a full liquor license for drinks before and during a movie or event. Alcohol sales would not be allowed during other times — thus nixing a bar-cafe service when a film isn't playing. (You can watch the meeting on YouTube. This application starts at the 20-minute mark.)
For his part, Assante didn't agree to the stipulations, opting instead to return before the group next Wednesday evening. (Zoom info is here.)
Ahead of that meeting, he wanted to share a letter with residents and the Community Board (it has been lightly edited for length and clarity):
My name is Marcello Assante. I am the applicant for Cinema Paradiso, attempting to obtain a full liquor license for our proposed location at 44 Avenue A.First off, please allow me to apologize for a misunderstanding with our presentation at the May 14 Community Board 3 meeting. It was not my intention to argue with the Board members about the misconceptions in their dialogue. Unfortunately, I am not the most practiced at presenting to community boards, and I hoped to clear up the questions.... we are a restaurant, café and bar that displays, creates, fosters discussion about and celebrates arts — not just a theater. Tragically, a theater cannot survive or thrive in this age of short attention spans and competing media.I am 65 years old, and I spent the last 30 years working my way up, from busboy to owner and operator of restaurants in New York City. These are small, family businesses, which I would not have had the ability to carry without the love and support of my wonderful wife, who is my partner.For the last 20 years, I have been involved in cinema, which is my passion... For the last 10 years, I have been working from creation to execution of Italian and French film productions and as a partner to a film festival in Italy.In the recent past, I have been involved in a cinema production with my friend and colleague Karl Bardoush, who is a professor of the arts at New York University, as well as with another friend, film director Abel Ferrara, who is known for "Bad Lieutenant," "King of New York" and many more.These, among other friends and colleagues of mine, directly lead to our conception and expectation to operate profitably, a European arts venue for fans of cinema, theater and jazz, in the face of so many theaters, who have had to close their doors.The Cinema Paradiso experience will bring together people socially around the film, theater and music arts, with food and wine, along with merchandise and cocktails. This is a unique concept ... and we are taking a risk.It is our hope that we will establish a base of serious fans of the arts for formal and informal presentations of these arts, along with lectures, discussions and community social meetings/debates about everything from the material presented to technical aspects of the making of these arts.There will be various formats for events, which we will find out about the financial viability of each as we go, and we hope to foster a sense that if you are not here, you might miss something a once-in-a-lifetime happening. At times, there will be special cuisine, which may be showcased with one of our other chefs or a guest chef. The main menu will be the cuisine of a lighter fare with an international but Mediterranean focus...Obviously, this neighborhood has culture and establishments on the agenda of many different locals and visitors. Still, we are not a place for the majority who come to this area looking to hit the bars. This is a restaurant and cultural establishment…we are not a comedy or rock club, we are not just a restaurant, and we are certainly not just a bar.Another example, so the board better understands the broad spectrum and breadth of our focus, is that one of our first planned programs will be a theater piece [that] involves one of the hottest up-and-coming writer-directors, Dustin Wills, doing a modern take on the Ancient Greek tragedy "Prometeo Incatenato" aka "Prometheus Bound." His recent endeavors include "Frontieres Sans Frontieres."To make Cinema Paradiso commercially viable, we need to have a full liquor license, until 1 a.m., as we requested, with no limitation of serving during events only, because this is a restaurant and café with a bar, serving brunch, lunch and dinner, that is creating and showing art pieces, and expecting to generate a loyal following of those in the film, theater and music art communities.To further prove that we are not a bar, we will be cutting down the bar from 20 feet to 10 feet to increase the number of tables.We look forward to your favorable response.