APL Loses Its Chef, Can Greenhouse Be Cool?

On those cop TV shows, sometimes someone close to a cop is whacked, which means that the cop can’t get involved with the case because he or she is too “close.” Of course, the cop who is relieved of duty or assigned to a desk job just can’t stay away, instead spending the next 48 minutes tracking the bad guys and bringing them to justice or to a quick and violent end. I sort of feel that way today. The restaurant that I built around chef Camille Becerra, APL, is parting ways with her before it even opens. As construction was completed over the last couple of months, it became clear that the owners and Camille weren’t getting along. It was like cowboys and Indians, and although at times it seemed like it was going to work out, well, it didn’t.

Camille isn’t the type to feel comfy on a reservation, and the cowboys were inclined to box her in. Camille will move on to do her thing and without a doubt will be wildly successful. The girl can flat-out cook. At the Blackbook soiree at APL, she wowed us with all sorts of fun, unusual, and, more importantly, delicious treats. I will follow her anywhere for her Zeppole’s filled with Serrano and figs. My fear going forward is that Mark Dizon and I collaborated heavily with Camille in the design of the place, which was meant to be paired with her visions of colorful food and drink. Maybe this will still happen with the new chef. For all intents the joint is ready to go. Sure, there’s a bathroom mirror to be hung and a light to be focused here and there, but 2 hours of work will have it ready.

After almost a year of delays, when an egress was denied by a landlord and an alternative had to be approved by the buildings department, the joint now loses what I consider its greatest asset. The jury is still out on whether APL, pronounced “apple,” proves to be full of worms or a Golden Delicious. As far as me being too close to the action to report unemotionally or fairly – well, when clients hire me they are aware that I write and they understand that I tell it like I see it. They often reap the rewards when I tell their story. Sometimes I get criticized for writing glowing reviews on places Mark and I design. I try to always write as if Steve Lewis the designer and Steve Lewis the writer are different people. Alas, it’s hard to do — like that cop on TV, it’s hard to remain detached. I want APL to succeed because it’s something I helped create. I want it to work, but the loss of a chef hours before a restaurant opens is a questionable decision at best. My work there is done and I cannot dwell on it or lose sleep on it. I can only hope for the best for all parties involved.

Stuart Braunstein, ex-Collective Hardware honcho, is real close to being back in the game. With the full cooperation of the boys over at Greenhouse, he’s gearing for a February 1st opening of the basement space at that venue. He’s deciding between two names for the art-based watering hole. “Work in Progress” is my choice. His other option seems to be “The Altar Ego.” Icky poo on that one. If he wants to call it “Icky Poo,” I will consent, as anything is better than Altar Ego, with the possible exception of APL.

Stuart will present a blank canvas to a select group of artists, who will install their work as the joint’s design. About 30% of the space will be changing constantly, compared to the 70% that will change only sometimes. Stuart feels real comfortable that Jon B, Greenhouse’s notorious owner, actually gets it. I think Jon does as well. What other owner would embrace this crowd, this concept? The bottom line is that Jon is always aware of the bottom line, but this basement boite comes with a low overhead, and stands to add much-needed cache to his brand, which is at best is associated with bottles, bimbos, and bridge and tunnel.

Although Greenhouse and Juliet (Jon B’s other venture) have had moments in the sun, they are generally considered “B” clubs. But adding a layer of downtown credibility may extend his run and give him relevance with those who discount his huge success. Stuart says, “I got a good feeling he’s going to do the right thing, and if he does and this works the way I feel it will, we can take it to another level.” He’s asked me to design a small section and I think I will. Collective Hardware ended badly. Most passionate endeavors do. However, in it’s hey day, it was the only game in town. It was the only game that was unpredictable and smart and savvy, that catered to those who just don’t care about a table next to a Lohan or a squadron of models. By providing a blank canvas and the material budgets to scenester artistic types, Stuart will attract those seeking an edgier nightlife than what’s being provided.

Alig did something similar back in the day with the after hours joint Lotto. He redecorated an abandoned office with seven rooms, each week giving club artists 100 bucks per room to do their thing. Lotto was a success until it wasn’t, and maybe this idea will wear thin, or the powers that ”B” will get greedy. Whatever happens, Stuart should be congratulated for trying something newish, and Jon B should also be applauded for embracing the concept. February 1st starts with a friends-and-family-type run, and soon after the adoring public will be invited.

“The noise some people make” is not a comment from one of my readers, but an EP from my friend Madison and the band that bears her name. I will be on hand at 9pm tonight at Marty’s, 247 West Broadway, for a celebration of its release. The songs are catchy and rock and cool, and come from a sweet little gal who becomes a monster on stage. Madison is wonderful and I will be there to support.

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