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Zabar Family Faces Backlash for Planned New Chinatown Business

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Locals say it will be too disruptive for the small street

Oliver and Eli Zabar
Oliver and Eli Zabar at the original Eli’s Night Shift
Photo: Eli’s

Looks like Chinatown isn’t quite as welcoming as the Upper East Side for the Zabar family. A block association called The Chinatown Core is fighting against Oliver Zabar’s bid to serve alcohol for a new location of beer bar Eli’s Night Shift at 54 Mulberry Street, south of Bayard Street.

The proposed business is an all-day operation. Baked goods and coffee would headline during the day, and the space would transition to craft beer and cocktails at night. Requested hours are 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, according to a liquor license application.

But more than a dozen people with the block association showed up to Community Board 3’s liquor license committee meeting this week to protest the new business’s liquor license application. Ultimately, the committee voted to deny a license in an advisory vote. Next the full community board will vote, followed by the State Liquor Authority, which makes the final decision.

Oliver, 26, and patriarch Eli, 74, already have an Eli’s Night Shift on the Upper East Side. Oliver runs Night Shift, and it’s part of a large empire of restaurants and markets from Eli largely located uptown, though it does not include the legendary UWS Zabar’s grocery store.

Chinatown Core Block’s chair Jan Lee tells Eater that 66 people, mostly who live within blocks of the bar, signed a petition saying that they oppose the opening of the bar. They argue that the area already has enough liquor licenses — with five in less than 400 feet of this location — and plenty of other businesses serve upscale coffee, beer, and baked goods in the neighborhood.

The proposed Eli’s would have two levels with 86 seats, including a ground floor with a bar and a cellar with a bar. A sample menu includes dishes like fried calamari with charred lemon and harissa aioli, charcuterie, beef tartare, a burger, and corn ravioli.

“That place will be a draw that will inundate this neighborhood with an inordinate amount of noise and traffic, with taxis and Ubers,” Lee says. “We don’t have confidence that the Zabar family has the same concerns that we do.”

Zabar did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The block association is primarily concerned with noise and traffic issues, particularly after ongoing trouble with a shuttered bar on the same street called Le Baron. Zabar’s brand name “will have a draw from the tristate area to this tiny street,” and it could also spawn copy cat bars in the area, Lee says. Plus, the Chinatown Core Block views Zabar’s as a chain — one that could potentially negatively impact surrounding mom-and-pop businesses. “We’re not naive,” Lee says. “We understand the brand.”

Community approval for the new Night Shift must go to the full board, which recommends a decision to the SLA. Stay tuned for more.

Eli's Night Shift Chinatown

54 Mulberry Street, New York, NY 10013

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