Sushi Samba ends rooftop fishy business and is fined


By Albert Amateau

The five-year battle over the Sushi Samba rooftop tent in the Greenwich Village Historic District ended two weeks ago when the owners signed an agreement with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to build a new legal rooftop addition and to pay the city a $500,000 fine.

The fine is the largest penalty ever won by L.P.C. for an aesthetic violation of a designated landmark or historic district.

“It’s been a long five years of litigation and we’re extremely pleased with the settlement,” said Virginia Waters, the city’s Law Department attorney who conducted the case. “Under the law, the city would have been entitled to ask for $5,000 a day — that would have come to $8.5 million over five years,” she added.

The fashionable restaurant (it has been featured on “Sex and the City”) serving fusion Brazilian-Japanese cuisine, opened at 81-87 Seventh Ave. S. at Barrow St. in 2000. In September 2000, Landmarks gave the owners permission to build a wooden open-air trellis on the roof to allow for a seasonal restaurant.

But the owners went a step further and added several steel arches to the trellis, then covered it all with tent-like canvas and plastic side panels to create an enclosed year-round second story cafe. Landmarks said the structure was not appropriate and violated the historic district.

And the noise generated by late-night patrons in the cafe violated the peace of Barrow St. neighbors whose apartments overlooked Sushi Samba. The rooftop, which has a legal capacity for 50 patrons, was cited at one point by the Department of Buildings for overcrowding with 146 patrons.

The restaurant owners applied to legalize the rooftop enclosure but Landmarks said no, and a State Supreme Court justice upheld that ruling in January 2003. Nevertheless, Sushi Samba continued to pack patrons into the illegal rooftop structure.

In September 2004, L.P.C. gave Sushi Samba permission to build an enclosed second story to replace the tent, but the restaurant’s landlord was in bankruptcy, putting legal actions over the rooftop on hold. But in February of last year, the city went to court again to force Sushi Samba to replace the tent with an enclosed legal second story.

Last June, Sushi Samba agreed to build the legal second story and the issue of a fine was put in the hands of a referee. The agreement signed last week settled on the $500,000 penalty.

A Sushi Samba spokesperson last week said the restaurant was “happy with the settlement and looking forward to a new relationship with the community.” The tent has come down and the new, enclosed second story is expected to open May 1.

“It’s a very important victory,” said Mark Silberman, Landmarks general counsel. “It should be a deterrent to not complying with the Landmarks Law.”

Council Speaker Chris Quinn, who helped put on pressure to resolve the situation, said she was glad with the outcome.