CB3 Puts its Foot Down Over Hell Square Liquor Licenses

Posted on: July 18th, 2017 at 5:06 am by

Sitting seventeen stories up seemed like a strange location for the SLA subcommittee of Community Board 3, but the meeting at Ian Schrager’s Public Hotel seemed appropriate all the same. One theme of the night was that the advisory body is taking a more serious stance on Hell Square license saturation. Let’s dive into some of the details.

S.E.T. BBQ (127 Ludlow Street)

The beloved Motor City Bar closed forever back in June 2013. Two years laterS.E.T. LES became a reality. Ownership returned to CB3 last night to extend its weekend hours to 4am closings, pleading business hardship as impetus.

In a rare moment of solidarity, the interests of the committee and the largest opposition group in the area – the Lower East Side Dwellers – were together aligned. The block association felt duped by the alleged bait-and-switch of being pitched on a restaurant concept back in 2013 (however, nebulous), and now being stuck with a glorified sports pub.

In addition, one of the Dwellers pointed out the seemingly nefarious kitchen situation here. How the Letter of No Objection from the Department of Buildings does not allow cooking on-premise. And there clearly is kitchen equipment to serve that menu…

The panel voted unanimously to deny the alteration outright, stating that (1) it’s not in the public interest to extend the hours in a heavily-saturated zone, (2) it would have a negative impact on area residents, and (3) it’s no longer a full service restaurant as initially conceived.

Analogue/Greyhound (131 Orchard Street)

Jared Gordon and Jesse Wilson from West Village haunt, Analogue, pitched the new cocktail bar concept for 131 Orchard Street. This is the location that was previously occupied by Black Tree/Raw Material before its eviction in May by landlord Samy Mahfar earlier this year.

Gordon and Wilson hung much of their argument on the near-stellar reputation of Analogue. No area complaints, 3-1-1 calls, etc. But that’s far from the confines of the Hell Square shitshow. The concept proposed here is for a potential bait-switch scenario with small menu of “raw seafood and assorted American alternatives” with 3am closing times.

The LES Dwellers again spoke in opposition, alleging that, while Analogue has a good reputation, they’re asking for much more on the Lower East Side. And that the area shouldn’t be set up for another potential liability.

Moreover, since the full liquor license at this address expired back in March, the committee treated this as a brand new application for an unlicensed space. Meaning, subject to the 500-foot rule and proof of public benefit. As with S.E.T. just around the corner, the panel didn’t see fit to approve this application and issued a straight-up denial.

Residents opposing MJK Foods on Mulberry St., Photo: CRBA

MJK Foods (32 Mulberry Street)

MJK ownership first approached Community Board 3 with the probable bait-and-switch concept last summer, but ultimately met denial when they refused the stipulations. One year and an expired liquor license later, the new corporate entity – sans Le Baron’s Ron Castellano – is still trying to make its Japanese small-plate concept a reality here. Arguing that the high-end Omakase menu would be an asset to the area and a marked departure from the last business here.

As before, the locals aren’t too thrilled. Roughly two dozen Chinatown denizens attended the public meeting to protest the application. Demanding 200 and 500 foot hearings given the new license status. Despite apparent good faith negotiations with majority stakeholder Ken Cohen, and his willingness to negotiate with the local block association, the two sides could not reach an accord on method of operation. The main sticking points were hours of operation, and proposed 40 private parties per year. And then there’s the issue of congestion on the narrow streets that can’t handle the loading of cars and humanity into 32 Mulberry Street.

As hard as they tried, the applicants could not shake the transgressions of its predecessor. Nor those of co-principal Max Levai, whose former employer Happy Ending was known as the worst bar in the whole 5th Precinct. (Levai reportedly told one of the activists that his function here would be to “attract the art world crowd” to the proposed establishment.)

CB3 didn’t like the connection, either, nor the overall lack of experience with the operators. Yet after an hour of deliberation, the panel agreed to the same stipulations as the sale of assets last year. Even though the address is technically now an unlicensed location. They approved the application with closing times of 12am during the week and 2am on the weekends. MJK already telegraphed its intentions to go back to the State Liquor Authority for the full 4am, though…

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