BY GABE HERMAN | The new operator of the White Horse Tavern assured the Community Board 2 State Liquor Authority Committee that he would not make significant changes to the historic bar.
Restaurateur Eytan Sugarman must apply for a liquor license as the place’s new owner. He told the March 14 meeting that he had been going to the White Horse for many years and was excited to be taking it over.
“I have every intention of keeping this amazing institution the way it is,” he said. “I have no intention of making any dramatic changes.”
Sugarman said he planned to make minor fixes that would not affect the look of the place, such as pipe repairs and updating the air conditioning.
“I essentially took this to maintain its integrity,” he said of the bar.
Sugarman said he planned to maintain the tavern’s same operating hours. He said he plans to basically keep the same menu, though the burgers might improve and prices could go up.
“Anything that Dylan Thomas might have breathed on will remain the same,” Sugarman said. “Guys, I love the place. I’m a new Yorker,” he added.
He called taking on the bar’s ownership a labor of love.
“I feel the same way you do. I will maintain this legacy,” he assured.
Robert Ely, the committee’s co-chairperson, asked Sugarman for his position on the recent push by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation to landmark the tavern’s interior.
The new owner said he was warm to the idea but wanted to see details. He said a neon Coors sign from 15 years ago shouldn’t be landmarked, for example, but a 50-year-old painting of Dylan Thomas should.
When public comments were heard, two people spoke in Sugarman’s favor, including C.B. 2 member Scott Sartiano. He said he has known Sugarman for many years and that Sugarman is accessible to the communities where he runs businesses. He added that Sugarman is passionate about New York and understands the struggles of local businesses.
“As far as operators go, he’s the gold standard. He’s a great guy,” Sartiano said.
Sartiano was a co-owner of hot Downtown nightclubs 10AK and Up & Down Club before his partner tricked him into selling out, according to a recent New York Post article. Sartiano currently owns Noho eatery Broken Coconut.
But three other attendees said they were skeptical of the White Horse’s new ownership. One of them said Sugarman may be reputable, but Steve Croman, the notorious landlord who bought the buildings, is disreputable. The lease terms are unknown and there will inevitably be change of some kind, the man warned.
Kat Georges said she was glad Sugarman said there would be no change to the White Horse. But she said respectable owners took over other local establishments, like Minetta Tavern, and now they are no longer places for the community to gather.
“I love that you want to keep it the same,” she said. “But the visuals are not the same as the spirit of the place. And the spirit of the place deserves protecting.”
Sugarman said he didn’t know Croman and had only read the same things about him as everyone else. He said he hopes to have a good relationship with the landlord.
The committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of the application. The full board of CB2 will hold its vote at its March 21 meeting. If the board approves, the issue will go to the State Liquor Authority.
Andrew Berman, executive director of G.V.S.H.P., said afterward that it was all well and good for Sugarman to say he won’t change the White Horse. But even if the bar’s new owner is being honest, circumstances or plans could change, he said. Therefore, Berman said, the drive to landmark the tavern’s interior was still crucial.
“This isn’t about Eytan Sugarman or any other individual,” he said. “It’s about the fact that the White Horse Tavern is this incredibly important piece of New York City history. It deserves this level of recognition, and it needs this level of protection.”
“We’re going to fight really hard to make sure it gets it, and clearly now is the time to do that,” Berman said of landmarking the bar. “I don’t want to leave any of this to chance.”