Back when Friendly Foods, d/b/a Pulino's Café popped up on the agenda for this month's Community Board 2 meeting, many (read: geeks) wondered what the restaurateur Keith McNally had up his sleeve. As it turns out, it's pretty simple: a smaller outpost of the Bowery original.
McNally, who opted to present at last night's CB2 meeting without lawyers or speakers in support ("they wouldn't have come anyway"), made his case simply and humbly, emphasizing the fact that he's a member of the neighborhood, has a proven track record—both in the business and as a part of the city's cultural fabric—and isn't looking at the space as a predatory restaurateur.
That didn't seem to be enough for the 14 community members who came to oppose the application. There were concerns about potential crowding and noise from a space that has never been granted a liquor license, as well as over the fact that there already are 25 licensed establishments in the area.
No one would expect McNally to go quietly into the night, and he didn't. Instead, dude lit up the place Howard Hughes style. In his introductory comments he alluded to how two women at a gathering earlier in the week had started shaking their heads "as soon as I opened my mouth." Lo and behold, those two ladies were present last night, and in a most surprising turn of events, they shook their heads a couple of times. "At least you're consistent," he remarked. And once he finished his original proposal, one board member asked if he had anything else to offer. "Is begging out of the question?"
As debate continued, McNally voiced his appreciation for those who presented their concerns constructively and insisted that all he wants is a "fair shake." The man was absurdly accommodating, saying that he'd agree to basically anything in order to make things work. Among the terms he had already sorted out with the community were restricting hours, handing out his home telephone number, keeping security outside à la Minetta, and soundproofing the locale. One thing McNally won't budge on is completely enclosing the space; he explained his emphasis on aesthetics, how he designs his restaurants, and how his places "work in a way partly for that reason."
It became clear that McNally's concessions were—at least for tonight—unsatisfying. Some suggested a preference for a project along the lines of the more private Minetta model, with an emphasis on reservations and less exposure. McNally seemed open to it: "Maybe I should just do a Balthazar Café."
But the item on hand was Pulino's Café, and the board determined that more debate should be had and that McNally needs to flesh out his ideas publicly. He's got a lease on the space, so something's going to happen there sooner than later. McNally wins? Not just yet, but maybe.
- Gabe Ulla· Keith McNally Pursues License for Pulino's Cafe in West Village [~ENY~]
· All Coverage of Community Boards [~ENY~]