Like ships steering into a typhoon wind, a number of places are on the verge of opening in this awful business climate. First up is super-chic café The Smile at 26 Bond Street, run by Matt Kliegman and Carlos Quirarte, which I believe will capture the imagination of the neighborhood hip set. I’ve heard they only have a beer and wine license, which I’m trying to confirm, but they will definitely be serving food. Official opening date is March 8, but I took a tour of the place while it was under construction, and it’s simply wonderful. The downstairs tenant is renowned tattoo artist Scott Campbell, which is a hot twist. I wish them well. The local tenants (through their condo associations) don’t seem pleased about nocturnal business on the block, but I am told that there is a much gentler wind blowing regarding licensing at the SLA. There is a novel concept being circulated that bars, clubs, and restaurants mean jobs and tax dollars, and that is a good idea. Change in SLA board members is predicted to ease the backlog of licensing and get things back to a semi-logical decision process. All hail.
Another ship about to sail is Harbour Drive, but unfortunately, sans captains Bill Spector and Bugsy. As reported here back in October, the local community board forced one half of the place to have a 1 a.m. liquor license, and the boys decided to boys drop out. I asked Bugsy why he and Bill didn’t tough it out and open with one side of the place carrying the 4 a.m. permit. He said that technicalities with the joint being split between two separate buildings caused the time disparity, and they “didn’t think they could make money under these conditions.” I’m not sure why this is so, since many joints are in multiple buildings with separate addresses and don’t have this problem. The end result is that Harbour Drive will open without some revenue potential. That results in fewer jobs, tax revenues, and deliverable goods. Which community does this community board think they are protecting?
I would also like to clarify what appears to be a contradiction between today’s blog and yesterday’s. Yesterday I reiterated my year-long concept that the economic downturn will manifest a new age of fabulous clubbing. I’m seeing that everywhere — great parties, great nights, new music, and a new generation of clubbies with style, dancing where yuppies used to flash Black Cards to buy Grey Goose. Today I compared the business climate to a menacing typhoon. Bottle buying was great for the bottom line but bad for the creative folks who were treated like bottom feeders. Now, with brokers being broke, the always-broke folk, hipsters, and youths are taking over in droves.
1. Alta (Greenwich Village) – Alta, as in “high,” as in “haute,” at this sexy Village tapas spot. 2. Degustation Wine & Tasting Bar (East Village) – Mannered tapas more about multiple changes of silverware than half-gallon pitchers of sangria. Put on a classy costume. 3. Flor de Sol (Tribeca) – Sexy Spanish tavern with the best sangria in the hood.
4. La Nacional (West Village) – Subterranean Spanish haunt hosts the most authentic tapas experience in NYC. 5. Casa Mono (Gramercy) – Man’s man’s tapas. Meat good. Make happy. Grunt. Grunt. 6. Oliva (Lower East Side): Basque home cooking that’s as wonderfully odd and complex as the language itself. Plus best sangria in the hood. 7. Tia Pol (Chelsea) – Basque in the glow of top tapas. Small plates = small waists. No reservations = long waits. 8. Boqueria (Union Square) – Realest Valencian paella in town courtesy of a guy named Seamus. Melting pot and all that. 9. Mercat (Greenwich Village) – Seared Catalonian tapas as solid as the brick, marble, and wood that make up this market-inspired NoHo newcomer. 10. Harbour Drive (Soho) – Spanish seafood in luxe yacht interior evolves into a rockin’ Marbella party boat.
Harbour Drive, the much-anticipated Soho restaurant-lounge, has hit a reef. Two of the four partners have left the project following the community board’s refusal to grant anything but a 1 a.m. license to the Spring Street side of the establishment. The space has two rooms and two bars — one with the Spring Street address and another with a Hudson Street address. The Hudson Street address was granted a full (till 4 a.m.) license. Despite this setback, the remaining two partners, who wish to remain anonymous, will forge ahead.
I asked promoter Bugsy — who, along with Bill Spector — has decided to move on why they couldn’t operate with this arrangement. Bugsy believes that they won’t be able to make money without full use of the smallish space. It seems that a previous tenant operated Green Room there and drove the octogenarian members of Community Board 2 crazy. So why did they grant the 4 a.m. license to the Hudson Street side? Why wouldn’t you qualify in both sides, if one side is ruled acceptable? Bugsy replied, “It made no sense.” Having worked on this project for over a year, they now walk away with nothing. All involved have spotless records and invested with the understanding that licensing would be granted.
Unless the remaining partners can reapply, change minds, or get around this devastating ruling, many people will now be left without jobs, and the city and state will lose tax revenues. These times call for leadership to step up and get such important decisions back into the courts and away from a non-elected community board, which will invariably be at cross-purposes with a drinking establishment. In this atmosphere — where an investor with a clean record must lay out hundreds of thousands of dollars and, in most cases, millions before knowing if a license is granted — it will be increasingly difficult to build. What happened at Harbour Drive is happening throughout the city; obtaining a liquor license has become nearly impossible. These times cannot afford the loss of jobs, taxes, and sales of goods imposed by community boards, which are usually comprised of people who do not actually represent the needs of the community.
You heard it here first: Soho is the new MPD. Or is it the old MPD? Whichever, there are two clubs of note opening imminently: Greenhouse and Harbour Drive. The former is an eco-friendly hothouse club from Jon B. of 27th Street fame in Soho proper; the latter is a yacht-inspired outpost in West Soho. Both are promising a little bit of rock n’ roll. If we’re lucky and you behave, we’ll follow up with some first-glimpse photos very soon.
With the sky falling and everyone I see in an advanced state of worry, it’s time for the state to wrest control of liquor sales from community boards and hand it over to the State Liquor Authority. The SLA used to be seen as a regulatory body with an eye on the bottom line. Issuing licenses to responsible people generated tax revenue and jobs, which in turn created more tax revenue and kept people off unemployment and welfare. Delis, cab drivers, people who sell cups and napkins, garbage men, and many more eat at this table. More people attended nightclubs last year than Yankees games, Mets games, Knicks and Ranger games, The Met, and Broadway shows combined — 65 million people, to be exact. Right now a virtual moratorium on new liquor licenses and constant attacks on the club industry are severely hurting the New York economy.
Harbour Drive, with over a million dollars already invested, is being offered a 1 a.m. license by its community board. They won’t make money with a 1 a.m. license. They won’t be able to afford staff. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue are threatened by this stupid ruling. Many investors look at this situation and decline to invest in new construction. Lumberyards, painters, contractors, architects, and designers are affected by the pig-headed views of unelected old farts who rule the community boards.
With thousands put out of work, a vibrant club industry could provide jobs for so many in need. It’s time for the city and the state to recognize the value in tax revenue and jobs and end this situation. Clubs can help pay for schools and cops’ salaries and keep food on the table for many who don’t know where it will come from in the days ahead. This is not the time to cling to the bedroom-community visions of board members. This city and state need tax revenue and jobs now, or this will be the coldest of all winters.