Todd English in ‘Market’ to Transform Former Troubled Watering Hole

Todd English has his eye on Chelsea as the latest location in his expanding gastronomic empire. Via cheftoddenglish.com.

BY WINNIE MCCROY | Neighbors who found it difficult to digest the drunken hijinks stemming from boozy weekend brunches at recently shuttered Il Bastardo restaurant are cautiously optimistic about their appetite for a plan that would see celebrity chef Todd English transform the troubled spot into a community-minded food/hall market.

The former occupants of 191 Seventh Ave. (near the corner of W. 21st St.) closed up shop earlier this summer after mounting fines, pending cases, and damning rebukes from the State Liquor Authority — including the revocation of their liquor license. The new potential operators, who have already filed with Community Board 4 (CB4) for their new liquor license, will meet with the community at a Sept. 12 Business License & Permits (BLP) Committee meeting to share further details.

“We still don’t know a lot about the Todd English plan, but on paper it looks like a vast improvement,” said Paul Groncki, a representative for the Council Chelsea Block Associations (CCBA). “We still have lots of questions about their hours of operation, outdoor sidewalk cafe seating, and more that we need to hear about yet before we decide.”

In an Aug. 28 email to the CCBA, the Elliott-Chelsea Tenants’ Association, the Fulton Houses Tenants’ Association, London Tenant Towers & Gardens, and Penn South, Chef English’s Director of Restaurant Development Flip Arbelaez wrote about “bringing a warm concept to your lovely distinguished neighborhood in Chelsea, NY.” Arbelaez also noted Chef English’s goal was for the food hall to become “an economy booster to the neighborhood, curating great jobs, to willfully rooting ourselves as strong community fixture in Chelsea.”

Describing Chef English as “one of the most decorated American chefs of our time,” Arbelaez notes that over the past decade, the multiple James Beard Award recipient has been expanding his portfolio of cuisines from rustic Mediterranean fare to “more of a global focus, indulging in the flavors from Asia to Pan-American delicacies.”

“The concept we’re proposing is a food hall/market. This attraction will fill your community with many helpful amenities from fresh coffee with fresh breads and pastries to cold-pressed fresh juices in your mornings,” wrote Arbelaez. “Asian delights like sushi and authentically made dumplings and gyoza will be neighbors to some Mediterranean and European influences for lunch and dinner all under one roof, tendered under one payment. Domestic cuisines as well as some South American treats will fill the air with aromas like nowhere in the neighborhood.”

The move follows a failed attempt in July by former Il Bastardo owner Robert Malta’s wife Kristin Sollenne to split the space into two restaurants, a Mexican and Italian eatery, with a capacity of 316 people. CCBA and other concerned organizations and individuals came out at a July 11 meeting of CB4’s BLP Committee at Yotel to speak against the establishment’s long history of drunk and disorderly conduct violations.

At that time, both residents and BLP members voiced the sentiment that the location was too big to succeed as a single restaurant, or even as two restaurants. Some hope that the food hall concept will be more in keeping with the timbre of the neighborhood.

In earlier forums, CB4’s BLP co-chair Frank Holozubiec noted that the spot “has been a plague on our community for 15 years or more, and I haven’t known of any other location in this district that has been such an unremitting problem that could not be solved, regardless of ownership issues.”

The bad old days, circa 2016: Il Bastardo’s brunch patrons crowd the sidewalk. File photo courtesy CCBA.

Hopefully, this diversified food hall concept will allow for a number of different small eateries and takeaway counters to provide a daily stream of food and beverage items to residents and visitors alike.

Chef English has already opened a European-inspired specialty food hall of this type at The Plaza New York on Central Park South, which offers nine diverse food stations: Ocean Grill & Oyster Bar, Noodle & Dumpling Bar, Pasta Bar, Sushi Bar, The Grill, Taqueria, Pizza, Cheese & Charcuterie, Wine Bar and Patisserie. The space was designed by architect Jeffery Beers, and features mosaic marble floors, elegant wood paneling, and stained-glass windows.

The reputedly hard-partying chef also reportedly signed a 15-year lease in Aug. 2016 for nearly 12,000-square-feet of space at the old New York Times building at 229 W. 43rd St. for The American Market by Todd English, a food hall concept venture with Jared Kushner. That space was set to open this summer, but recent reports now reveal English will open it this December, for New Year’s Eve in Times Square.

With Chef Anthony Bourdain’s plan to open an Asian Market-style food hall at the nearby Manhattan waterfront in 2019, it’s easy to speculate that Chef English may want to get a jump on the competition. Residents hold out hope that the concept will fulfill the needs of the community without causing the litany of problems they contended with for years.

“We sent [Chef English] an email asking for details, and we are hoping they’ll talk to us, because a big number of us believe that to be a good part of our community means they’ll reach out to us and explain what they’re doing,” said Groncki. “If they play things close to the chest and all we do is worry and wonder, that won’t be as good.”

In an Aug. 30 email reply to questions posed by the 20th Street Block Association, Todd English representative Joseph Korbar noted their desired seating capacity as 280 inside/36-40 outside, and confirmed the proposed hours of operation (closing Mon.-Sat. at 11 p.m., Sun. at 10 p.m.). Korbar also noted they are not planning to employ a DJ or live bands, but stopped short of providing details to the question of whether there are violations or complaints on record regarding any other Todd English establishments (“This is under review and if any they will be addressed,” he wrote.) Speaking with Chelsea Now over the phone on Fri., Sept. 1, Korbar confirmed he will accompany Chef English to the BPL meeting.

To learn more about the plans, attend CB4’s BLP Committee meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Tues., Sept. 12 at Yotel (570 10th Ave., at W. 42nd St.; 4th floor, in the Green Room). To access the CB4 calendar, visit nyc.gov/mcb4. For info. on the applicant, visit cheftoddenglish.com.