We must admit, going into our first SLA Licensing meeting, that we expected it to be mostly dull—maybe a resident or two speaking up here and there for or against a proposed bar in the area, but probably not since a serious thunderstorm was predicted for just after the meeting’s start time of 6:30 p.m. The church basement was cavernous and had just had over twenty people in it.
The first item on the agenda certainly seemed extremely straightforward: a simple corporate change in the ownership of Mulberry Street Bar, which had actually previously been approved by the board in 2019, except that the previous owner passed away before papers could be signed. One of the proposed new owners is his widow’s sister Vivian Catenaccio, who owns and operates both La Mela and Il Picolo Bufalo on the same block. She and her lawyer appear before the board and everything seemed to go perfectly well, just a regular nightlife stipulation to close down the sidewalk and post-Covid road bed dining by 10 p.m. Everyone’s getting along, this seems like a slam dunk—and then the board opens things up to public comments.
A Mulberry resident comes to the microphone; like us, it’s her first time at an SLA Licensing meeting, so she’s not sure how things work either, but she’s here to complain that Mulberry Street Bar has had karaoke past 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, with speakers so loud that it can be heard in her apartment just like she’s out on the street. Not very much later, 11:15 at the latest, but it’s very loud and their attempts at reaching out haven’t gotten anywhere.
Catenaccio steps up to the microphone and says the resident is mistaken; Mulberry Street Bar has not in fact had karaoke in over two years. You can see the sudden WTF on the resident’s face; she clearly wants to go back to the microphone and protest that she’s not making things up. And then—and then!—Catenaccio proceeds to declare that the karaoke is not at Mulberry Street Bar at all, it’s actually in the middle of the road, arranged and paid for by Mulberry Street Bar, La Mela, and the other surrounding restaurants on the block. She clearly thinks this is a gotcha! moment, and she’s right.
Unfortunately this gotcha moment was very much an own goal, as the board informs her that actually no music is allowed outdoors at all, and certainly not amplified karaoke, as it’s very much a violation of current regulations. She protests that it’s something the restaurants are doing for the community, to help brighten spirits up during the pandemic, but the board reiterates that it’s a violation and advises she stop chipping in, at the very least. The board also advised the complaining resident to take her complaint directly to the SLA. We’ll walk down Mulberry the next few weeks and keep you posted!
Next up: the proposed restaurant at by James Wright at 59 Grand, a.k.a. the long-time home of the late, lamented Lucky Strike. He appears with two lawyers, one of whom steps to the microphone. This is a second attempt at board approval, as the previous one was turned down during pandemic Zoom meetings. Most of the discussion is about outdoor space; the board wants to know what Wright is planning to do with it, given that the location on Grand St has no space for legal sidewalk seating and a bus stop precludes road bed dining. They’re also concerned that Wright has no chef—he’s provided a menu, but no chef, so is this is a bait-and-switch where he’s selling a restaurant to the board to acquire a full liquor license when he’s really opening a bar?
Wright explains that the bistro concept and menu is his work, as he’s worked in the industry his entire life, so he’s looking for a chef that can execute his ideas. He and his lawyer reiterate that this will 100% be a restaurant and that the bistro meets the legal standard for a restaurant under ABC law; also that music will be background level only, not entertainment, and there’s not enough space in there for dancing. They agree to no events, no parties, no private events; no sidewalk or road bed.
Next up: Daniel Abrams, who would like a new license for the same spot at 79-91 MacDougal, where he has had a lease for fourteen years and operated Mermaid Oyster Bar until the pandemic. Abrams, who owns and operates three Mermaid Inn locations across the city, gave up the license at MacDougal to save money last year while his business was closed and would like it back, but will be opening a different business in the space: Mermaid Mexican. He’s never had sidewalk dining at this location before, but like his neighbors on the block now, he would like both sidewalk dining and road bed dining. He agrees to stipulate that the road bed dining will be temporary and subject to a follow-up review in the future after board members speak up about how tight MacDougal is with road bed dining on both sides of the street; one blames the structures for FDNY trucks having trouble getting to what turned out to be a four alarm fire.
Next up: Brenna Gilbert, a SoHo resident and luxury retail marketing veteran, applying for a new beer and wine license at the corner of Broome and Crosby for Champers Social Club. This application could not possibly been even more appealing than it was: she and her team stood outside the space for three days to talk to block residents and garner signatures in support of the project, along with garnering approval from the building co-op board, as well as prominent local activist Lora Tenenbaum, who sent her notes directly to the SLA board. It will be a small restaurant with a retail component, focused on making it easy for people to throw parties; they will have limited sidewalk seating on Crosby, and private wine tasting and floral arrangement classes in the basement. Honestly, this presentation went so smoothly from our point of view that the only remotely controversial part of it was the use of the phrase “custom ballonniere”.
Note to readers applying for your first ever license like Gilbert: the lawyer she worked also presented for another client later on in the West Village and their application was equally well-prepared. We didn’t manage to catch her name or that of her firm but were very impressed.
Last but not least: Ariel Arce, the Champagne Empress of the West Village, applying for full liquor at three stories of 357 West Broadway for The Residence + Cavi-AIR Cafe: the concept is approachable luxury caviar retail on the first floor, an alimentari on the second, and traditional caviar service on the third, with champagne and cocktails. She’s withdrawing the terrace portion of her application after talking to the West Broadway block association, and agrees no one will be allowed out there, staff included, unless it’s to water plants. Most of the discussion centers around road side dining and what her options are for it, given that we don’t know if, how, or when it will be made permanent, and that her opening date if approved will be months from now; Arce decides to apply for a license without it, stipulating that she can and likely will apply later on once the situation is clearer.
Just when we think all is good and done, a board member speaks up to ask her about her other places on MacDougal—why should the board ever take her word for anything when she agreed to not have advertised live music in the basement or anything other than a guitar there, and he knows that hasn’t been true? She replies that she’s never had so much as a noise complaint, and that even Patti Smith lives next door and has never said anything. Détante!
N.B. Chobani was a no-show for their full liquor/sidewalk cafe application at 152 Prince. In the West Village: Michael Azzolina, whom many of you may know from his tenure as the maître d’ at Raoul’s, is applying for full liquor for West 13th at the former home of Café Loup, to be called Cecchi’s; and Sam Milliken of the classic event space Manhattan Penthouse on Fifth is applying for full liquor for a new space called Sassy’s at 28 Seventh Ave South.