Webster Hall’s Chinatown Endeavor ‘Mul-Bay Cocktail Lounge’ Voted Down by CB3

Posted on: August 18th, 2015 at 5:00 am by
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The Webster Hall crew fighting for a new Chinatown barLast night was the August SLA subcommittee meeting of Community Board 3. It brought out the usual egos, tempers, and media folk at the ready to document. Of the twenty applicants, one really stood apart from the rest. The marquee item was Webster Hall’s push to open a bar at 69 Mulberry Street. The scorching temperatures outside the East 4th Street doors were matched by the fury of numerous Chinatown residents who turned out in opposition.

Mul-Bay Cocktail Lounge, 69 Mulberry Street

As previously reported, current operators of Webster Hall seek to invade Chinatown with a “restaurant” masquerading as cocktail bar. The Mul-Bay Cocktail Lounge, originally referred to as Kimlau Gardens (we’ll get to that in a minute), pitched the board for its concept at 69 Mulberry Street (at Bayard). A large contingent from Webster Hall packed the at-capacity room to expound on the concept. Namely that the 60-person establishment would carry a menu of ten items, and operate a takeout window for quick serving. It would be “food forward” and mainly appeal to tourists and some residents.

Yet, the principals probably weren’t expecting the torrent of opposition from some two dozen folks in the room, who argued that this is not what Chinatown needs, and serves no public benefit. Or, in layman terms, they collectively tore the ownership a new asshole. Those against the application spoke fervently about the potential adverse effects Mul-Bay would have on the surrounding neighborhood. There was the woman whose family owns the Nice One Bakery at 47 Bayard who noted that the 24-year-old business is on the verge of collapse, thanks to the influx of nightlife in high residential zone; or the resident who argued that these guys would be the proverbial Trojan Horse that brings even more likeminded businesses to the block; or how the initial name of Kimlau Gardens was a total slap in the face to the local Chinatown population (he was a Chinese American air force pilot who died in WWII); or how the area is highly populated with children and senior citizens.

When pushed by the panel about how Mul-Bay Cocktail Lounge would offer public benefit, the crew noted that it’s a “unique establishment” that would bring a “new dynamic to the area.” Only problem is, locals already imparted that this isn’t for them. “We don’t eat dim sum at midnight,” another speaker intimated. Ballinger expounded by saying the goal was to generate buzz, to have a place that’s “written about by Eater and the New York Times.” Also, little outreach was conducted; no notices were translated into Chinese.

CB3 member Karlin Chan also collected hundreds of local signatures in opposition. 

It was basically a no-brainer for Community Board 3, which voted to deny the establishment outright. Mul-Bay will sit before a 500-foot Hearing if it goes straight to the State Liquor Authority.

No Fun, 163 Ludlow Street

No compliance. No respect. No Fun.

This place is one of Hell Square’s more notorious establishments. In retrospect, it was a bait-and-switch from the get-go, having been approved as a “full service tapas bar.” Simply laughable. Just head over there on a warm Saturday night and see if people queued around the corner are really waiting for the food. There are DJs spinning almost seven days a week, ticketed events like comedy and burlesque shows (without cabaret license), hand-stamping, and security detail (not needed for true restaurants). So, obviously not adhering to its agreed-upon method of operation. Social media such as Yelp, Facebook, and Twitter served as the proverbial Achille’s Heel for the application.

Of greater concern, though, was the issue of occupancy. Temporary Certificates of Occupancy listed 74, a number relayed to both CB3 and SLA. However, shortly after opening in 2011, the total occupancy doubled (confirmed by posters onsite).

Most of the speakers were in favor of the renewal, including the current chef and residents above the bar. The LES Dwellers were the sole opposition. Founder Diem Boyd summed it up by saying that we are constantly “told we’re getting restaurants, but instead are getting clubs.”

Since liquor license renewals are usually approved by the SLA, CB3 decided to approve, but memorialize new, harsher stipulations. Namely, the SLA should investigate No Fun and hold them to the original method of operation; it’ll return to a full service tapas bar consistent with the original approval; Scale back its hours to something consistent with its state method of operation (i.e. 2am closing time).

Compass, 154 Orchard Street

This application was difficult to watch. A fresh-faced lawyer who seemed totally inexperienced represented an equally clueless applicant. Beka Peradze (ODA House) – one of three co-founders – showed up to fight for the full OP to bolster his Georgian-style restaurant (country not state). The team was totally unprepared, and with an incomplete, and often incorrect, application. For instance, listing that there are only three licensed establishment within five hundred feet (there are 44) or that the they’re a bi-level concept (instead, taking both ground spaces).

The slew of failed nightlife operators here was also fresh on the brain. Especially the fact that all except one (Mission Chinese Food) maintained only a beer-wine license.

It was embarrassing to watch the counsel grovel before the committee repeating ad nauseum that 154 Orchard would be a “bona-fide Georgian restaurant.” That the applicant is “trying his hardest.”

Since zero outreach was conducted with the local block associations, CB3 advised the applicant to withdraw until next month. They agreed.

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