Liquor fuels heated debates at full board meeting

By Lincoln Anderson

There were fears, jeers and, finally, tears of joy at Community Board 2 last month as residents and nightlife operators squared off on three hotly contested liquor license applications.

In the end, C.B. 2 recommended approval for new liquor licenses at 47 W. Eighth St. and 19 Kenmare St., the latter where Ivan Kane had once hoped to open his retro-burlesque Forty Deuce club before bailing out in the face of community opposition. The board, however, recommended denial for a license renewal for Beatrice Inn, the swank W. 12th St. nightspot.

Eighth St. residents turned out in force to speak against the new application, saying the street’s makeover from “Shoe Central” has brought problems.

First, though, Honi Klein, executive director of the Village Alliance business improvement district — advocating for the restaurant — detailed how W. Eighth St., after falling on hard times, is experiencing a retail and restaurant rebirth. Shoe places have left, not because landlords are demanding higher rents, Klein said, but because, as she put it, “There are 14 mega-shoe stores on 14th St.”

A year and a half ago, the street had 18 empty storefronts, Klein said.

“Now we are down to six vacancies,” she noted. “The street is in the middle of a sea change. … It’s not a restaurant street — nobody calls it that yet,” she added, though noting that in the 1930s and ’40s it was indeed home to some well-known dining spots.

But neighbors said they’re noticing more nighttime noise.

“I’m a book editor. I value quiet,” said Robin Dresser, citing cigarette smoke and noise from the new places. “I didn’t come to the Village for this.”

Francine Ekelman, a 30-year W. Ninth St. resident who lives right behind 47 W. Eighth St., voiced worries about “smoke, music, clatter of dishes, background noise.”

But Gil Horowitz, of 2 Fifth Ave., said he was pleased with W. Eighth St.’s new direction.

“The block was dying [before],” he said. “This has been described as a bar, a superbar a megabar. This is a restaurant, like Babbo’s. It is a high-end, white table-sheets restaurant. …”

“Liar!” two people shouted from the audience, drawing a warning from Brad Hoylman, the board’s chairperson, that they would be asked to leave if they continued.

A minor partner in the restaurant said no one would be hanging out on the sidewalk in front of the place, that ceilings, doors and walls would be soundproofed and that there would be “no openings” in the back to let sound escape.

The minor partner, who only gave his name as Bob when talking to The Villager, referred further questions to Rocco Ancarola, a principal in the restaurant. Perhaps stoking residents’ fears, the Web site for Pink Elephant nightclub on W. 27th St. in Chelsea lists Ancarola as a principal partner. The site describes him as “an accomplished restaurateur and [event] promoter who has enjoyed outstanding recognition and success worldwide” — and also notes he once even appeared in a Madonna video.

Ancarola said the Eighth St. location would be a gastropub. There is 1,800 square feet of space upstairs and 1,200 square feet downstairs, he said, a narrow space with room for 100 people.

“It will be an upscale version of food, a gastronomic journey — bangers and mash,” Ancarola said. “It’s a big trend right now in London. It would be 70 percent to 80 percent based on old English dishes that we would upscale.”

They hope to open in March, he said.

Board 2 approved the liquor license application for 47 W. Eighth St., but with several stipulations, including that a menu and food items be available until 12:30 a.m. seven days a week. C.B. 2 also strongly urged the State Liquor Authority to conduct a 500-foot-rule hearing (which is done when at least three other licensed premises are within 500 feet of the applicant) to determine if licensing the restaurant is in the public’s best interest.

Meanwhile, one of the most contentious spots for a liquor license in C.B. 2’s district in recent years — 19 Kenmare St. — was up again for review. To recap, C.B. 2, in April 2007, approved a license for Ivan Kane’s Forty Deuce burlesque club at the location, but then, five months later, influenced by strong community opposition, rescinded its recommendation, after which Kane gave up on the spot. This March, the board approved a license for a new applicant at 19 Kenmare St., Chris Eddy, who planned a noodle bar and sushi restaurant. But Eddy had financing problems and dropped out, too. The latest hopefuls, the brother-and-sister team of Danae and Dustin Cappelletto, are from Sydney, Australia, and their restaurant is Travertine.

“We have no association with Forty Deuce,” Dustin told C.B. 2, adding, “We stand here together as a family.”

Opponents charged, however, that the building’s landlord was trying to push out residential tenants so the restaurant could expand. But Robert Ferrari, the Cappellettos’ attorney, said his clients have no nefarious link to the landlord.

“We agree that the landlord is a snake — because we negotiated with him,” Ferrari said. “We have no relationship with the landlord other than occupying the premises.”

In the end — as Danae shed tears of relief — the board voted to recommend that the S.L.A. approve the license, conditioned on the restaurant agreeing to abide by several stipulations, and with the board urging the S.L.A. to hold a 500-foot-rule hearing.

Speaking later, Danae said the 70-seat restaurant will be “very contemporary, New Age-Mediterranean.”

Asked about her emotional reaction, she said, “I’ve been looking for a space for 10 months. It’s emotional because you have your life savings on the line.”

Speaking after the Sept. 18 meeting, Hoylman said he was “very happy” with the 19 Kenmare St. outcome.

“For Community Board 2’s credibility, we have to make some tough decisions,” he said. “We can’t let the community forget, if not for this board, there’d be a burlesque club at 19 Kenmare St. — and this is a restaurant. And I know some of the advocates were disappointed, but we certainly talked thoroughly about the issue of oversaturation” of liquor licenses in the Nolita/Chinatown area, he added.

Finally, although Beatrice Inn’s liquor license was recently renewed by the S.L.A., C.B. 2 recommended denying the renewal, based on neighbors’ complaints about noise and crowds outside the W. 12th St. hot spot.

“The street has turned into a completely mob-filled scene,” said Adley Gartenstein, who lives upstairs from the club. “People come there because they can dance and smoke — basically defy all the laws that apply.” The two-year-old, new Beatrice Inn does not have a cabaret license, which is required for patron dancing; but neighbors said there is a back-room disco, and that co-owner Paul Sevigny, actress Chloe Sevigny’s brother, deejays.

Neighbors said the club has literally turned the block upside down: While the original Beatrice Inn, an old-style Italian restaurant, closed at 10 p.m., the new Beatrice opens at 11 p.m. and doesn’t stop rocking until 4 a.m.

“Ninety percent of all nights, I can’t get to sleep until 4:30 in the morning,” Gartenstein told The Villager.

Most of the din comes from those denied at the door, they said.

“They call the people inside that they claim to know and they want to get in,” explained next-door neighbor Bob Cohen. “There’s a constant dialogue with these people who got rejected.”

They said that recently during Fashion Week, a neighbor who couldn’t walk down the street one night because 300 people were in front of Beatrice Inn called in a complaint and the Fire Department came and shut the place down.

Rae Lee, C.B. 2’s S.L.A. Licensing Committee chairperson, said, as opposed to new liquor license applications, on license renewals, the community board has far less influence over the S.L.A.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, the S.L.A. will approve renewals unless there are outstanding violations,” he said. “The Beatrice doesn’t have any S.L.A. violations. They have to have good reason to deny [the renewal] other than some noise issues and issues with the community.”

However, Lee noted, C.B. 2, in addition to recommending denial, also called on the authority to further investigate whether there are any violations.

Bob Rinaolo, a former C.B. 2 member who owns the Beatrice Inn’s building, said he has no partnership interest in the club and nothing to do with its operations.

“Actually,” he quipped, “I wouldn’t mind being a partner, the kind of business that they’re doing there — but, unfortunately, I’m not. … Yes, I know that there were some people who objected to their getting their license renewed. But apparently it’s been renewed, so it’s a moot point at this point.”