BY GABE HERMAN | Soho restaurant Piccola Cucina has drawn complaints from some neighbors for excessive noise and crowds, and this month the owner appeared before the community board to address the issues.
Owner and chef Philip Guardione appeared with his attorney Michael Ferrari at a meeting of CB2’s Liquor Licensing Committee. Chair Robert Ely noted two previous meetings addressing complaints about the restaurant, along with a Villager article that focused on late-night noise and crowd issues at the 75 Thompson St. location.
“We know what the problems are,” Ely said at the meeting, which focused on the 184 Prince St. location. He said that when the restaurant was granted its license in 2009 by the committee, the closing hours were stated to be 11 p.m. and there were no front doors that opened, Ely said. The doors, which are now part of the restaurant, have been a source of complaints about loud music blasting out late at night.
Piccola didn’t come back to the committee when the change to open doors was made, Ely said, and they have been kept open past 10 p.m. despite a previous resolution stipulating that time limit.
“I personally know that the doors have been open past 10 p.m.,” Ely said, noting times he has walked by the restaurant.
He said he would like the doors to be closed by 9 p.m., which he said would be a reasonable time. “I’m not looking to penalize anybody, but to give back to the neighborhood,” he said, noting many felt they had been doused with late-night noise.
The goal of the meeting was to work together to improve the situation to address complaints and also help the business by giving them better standing with local residents, Ely said.
He acknowledged, “I think there’s a lot of people feeling upset on both sides.” This played out during the meeting, with occasional crowd interruptions from opposing sides of the issue.
Attorney Michael Ferrari told the committee that the restaurant recently made changes, including lowering music to a background level, and ending celebrations involving banging pots and pans. “They understand that it’s very loud,” Ferrari said.
Ferrari said the restaurant is actually very popular, which is why it has been there for 10 years. Speaking of the owner, Ferrari said, “He feels he’s been treated poorly by residents from the beginning,” including nasty and aggressive treatment, he said.
The restaurant does want to stay open later than 11 p.m., Ferrari said, and plans to file an application for that at a later date. Ferrari said of Ely’s comment about working together, “We’re here in that same spirit, and let’s hear what people have to say and find a solution.”
Guardione said the restaurant is open until midnight on weekends, but said his operation is small and faces many expenses. “I don’t have a chance,” he said. He added, “I have a good relationship with my neighbors,” and said it was a small number of people who were upset.
The owner reiterated that the music and general noise had been lowered, and that efforts were made outside to create orderly lines on the sidewalk, after complaints that large crowds would gather.
The committee opened up the discussion to public comments, and about a dozen people spoke — the majority in favor of the restaurant. Defenders said that the food was great and the staff was friendly, and some said it felt like family to be there. Some acknowledged noise issues but said they were improving, and that overall the restaurant was a valuable part of the neighborhood.
Some people spoke against Piccola Cucina, but also mostly acknowledged that the noise problems were improving. A concern was that the improvements were only temporary, both for noise and crowd issues, especially once the summer returned and the front doors might be open more often.
Ely then spoke again to Ferrari and Guardione, saying that the committee would try to come up with a compromise of stipulations for the restaurant to follow, which Piccola Cucina would see if they would agree to.
The stipulations would likely include closing the doors and the restaurant at specific hours, keeping music at a background level, and prohibiting banging pots and pans during celebrations, Ely said. He thanked Guardione for coming to the meeting, and said the stipulations would be made public after being agreed upon, so everyone will know what they are.
Ferrari asked the committee to consider the good that the restaurant brings to the community, and told Ely, “I think your suggestion on how to proceed is sound.”