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265 Elizabeth, Soho Kosher Spot, La Esquina, More Face CB2

Welcome to First Word, wherein Eater and its correspondents sit for hours at steamy community board meetings to bring back the first word of new establishments and what they're up to. Your reports from the field always encouraged to

2008_07_elizabeth.pngIn part one of Community Board 2's monthly SLA Licensing Committee meetings, neighbors heard out and often rallied against proposals from 265 Elizabeth Street, a new Kosher spot in Soho, Bahr Che, La Esquina, and more. There's a lot to get through, so let's jump right into it:

1) B & Y Restaurant Group offered one of the most interesting proposals of the night. Move over Kutsher's—This group hopes to open a kosher restaurant in downtown Soho at 323 West Broadway. The way they see it, all the decent kosher restaurants are uptown, and New York Jews living south of Zabar’s need some hip, hot, and high-end rabbi approved nourishment. The result would be a 3,000 square foot space that observes Jewish kosher law. You won’t be seeing pork or shellfish on the menu, and early bird specials on Friday will probably be the new trend, as Shabbat will be observed and all cooking will cease at sundown.

These guys know their audience though and they managed to get around the no using appliances rule by creating an option for pre-cooked and pre-paid meals. This way those who want to observe religious law, but still dine at a fashionable hour can have their cake and eat it too, without flour of-course.

Everything seemed to be going flawlessly. The operators agreed that the rooftop would not be used and that they would manage outside crowds until their closing hours. A ruling was about to be made, and then one member of the community spoke her mind about a lawsuit some years back that stated there would not be a liquor license issued within 200 feet of 72 Grand Street (her co-op). The issue spiraled into a 40 minute debate.

The members made no immediate decision, but after everyone cleared out, they decided to deny unless certain standard stipulations were met, and pointed to the uniqueness of the proposed establishment. Mazel Tov guys.

2) The 265 Elizabeth Street space, former home to Elizabeth, is notorious for being among the hardest to obtain and seal the deal. The latest attempt was presented by Cornelius Gallagher; he is a chef and restaurateur with over 20 years of experience and has worked in some of the world’s top restaurants like Daniel, Bouley, Lespianasse, Oceana and a couple grandiose places overseas. The proposal is for a 74 seat upscale restaurant, which the chef said will feature French technique and Asian ingredients. Mr. Gallagher had a lovely presentation and the chair of the committee spoke out several times saying, “it’s the best application I’ve ever seen” (with regards to this particular space).

The team provided a concrete solution for the community’s general disapproval of using the garden space, stating that they would close the retractable roof permanently, seeing as that would be the best way to satisfy the residents’ concerns about noise disruptions. There were also obvious efforts on their behalf to inform the community about their proposed operation, including knocking on door around the neighborhood.

The committee voted for the request to be laid over until next month, when the operators are expected to return with approval from different associations and committees in the neighborhood. The chair of the committee said, “every month people decide they can’t do it and live up to it, these guys have a great application, we’d like to see if we can make it work.”

3) Time and time again community members have voiced their complaints with La Esquina and most of them deal with standard noise violations. Community members at this meeting however, seemed to have it out for La Esquina as its owners attempted to renew their liquor license. Riled up residents read a list of criticisms, more than 20 points deep, including one about a tweeter who angrily hate-tweeted about a particular community member trying to shut down the restaurant. It got personal. At the end of the rant, Derek Sanders (one of the La Esquina partners) calmly addressed every complaint with ease, making most of the grievances seem like old news. The community board approved their renewal for a liquor license, but said they must agree to continue monthly community meetings where residents could voice their epic dissatisfaction. Turns out La Esquina had already renewed their license before their expiration, and the whole debate was utterly unnecessary.

4) Bahr Che, the wine, cheese and charcuterie spot in Astor Place, was petitioning for some outside tables and chairs per request of the landlord who believed it might be a good deterrent to some questionable (read drug-related) activity that’s been happening outside of the building. The idea is the livelier the outside environment, the safer it will be. Community members didn’t have anything to say on the issue and the board ruled to deny unless they agreed to some basic stipulations like bringing in tables and chairs by 10pm and not playing any music outdoors.

5) The rest of the clan that didn’t show requested lay overs until next month (Il Buco, The City Tavern, and Tobey’s public house.) GMT asked for a sidewalk cafe and was denied unless they close all their doors and windows by 11 PM, and make sure staff and patrons stick to their property. 95 University Place was also denied unless they met basic stipulations, which the operators were more than happy to comply with. Finally Jobee Restaurant, which requested longer hours, and Mambo Restart, which was hoping to expand into their cellar for an event space, were both Denied. Jobee, on the premise that it had been operating illegally and Mambo Italiano due to over saturation of restaurants and tour buses in the area.
—Maite Alvarez
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La Esquina

114 Kenmare Street, Manhattan, NY 10012 (646) 613-7100 Visit Website

Bahr Ché

26 Astor Place, New York, NY 10003 (212) 260-2220 Visit Website