Lyric diner reopening

GPBA concerned over planned bar

Lyric diner (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Lyric diner (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The former Lyric Diner is planning to reopen soon — after a short stint as Taverna, a Greek restaurant.

“Lyric was there for a long time and Taverna wasn’t right for the neighborhood,” owner George Kalogerokas said of the diner’s return.

Meanwhile, though he’s going to be reopening a neighborhood favorite, one community group is concerned about the inclusion of a bar that wasn’t there when the diner was the original Lyric. When the owners converted the old diner into Taverna, they applied for a full liquor license and the State Liquor Authority granted it.

While the attorney for the owners and the owners themselves have emphasized that the physical bar will be primarily used as food counter when the spot reopens, owner George Kalogerokas admitted that if a customer wanted to buy a drink without ordering food, it wouldn’t be a problem. And this is a concern for Sean Brady and Arlene Harrison of the Gramercy Park Block Association. The GPBA has expressed concerns over the past few months that Third Avenue is becoming oversaturated with bars.

“The community has had its share of issues with bars, and even restaurants that sell alcohol which morphed into bars that also served food,” Brady said.

Community Board 6’s Business Activities and Street Affairs Committee chair Nicole Paikoff said that CB6 isn’t concerned about the way the owners plan to run the new Lyric because they said the bar would be used as a lunch counter. “If it turns out they are operating in a way that is not a diner, then of course we will address it, but it looks like this is going to be a diner again; the only difference is they have a liquor license, she said.

But Brady said the distinction isn’t that the restaurant has a liquor license now but is that it will have permission from the SLA to have a standup bar, where customers can buy a drink without ordering food. “Our view is that if they’re using it for people sitting down and eating, it’s fine,” he said. “But their license allows them to sell to people who are standing up and that’s the part they promised the community board they wouldn’t do.”

The restaurant’s two owners, Kalogerokas and Dimitrios Sarantopoulos, signed an affidavit this past January that said the community board would support a full liquor license if the owners agreed not to have a standup bar, but in their application to the SLA in April, the number next to how many standup bars would be located in the restaurant was one instead of zero.

“They said ‘we agree (not to have a standup bar)’ and they promised that to the community, then they turned right around and did exactly the thing they agreed not to do,” Brady said. “It’s either a deception or a mistake and it sounds like it was a planned deception.”

He added that if there was a mistake, he would be happy to write a letter to the SLA personally fixing the part of the application that includes a standup bar.

“Our hope is that it was a mistake,” he said. “That would be a win for the community because people loved Lyric and they would love to see it come back.”

In response to the GPBA’s concerns, Peter Marc Stern, the attorney for Lyric’s owners, said that the distinction for the community board and the SLA is slightly different when each refers to a standup bar. The agreement with the community board was concerning the kind of bars where customers stand and drink without ordering food, and he said that the owners are not intending to make Lyric into that kind of place at all.

“Nobody can just drift in there and have a drink standing up,” he said. “We’re not going to violate that stipulation. And who would want to go in there just to have a drink when everyone else is having pancakes?”

He explained that the standup bar mentioned in the SLA application is only referred to in that way to differentiate it from the service bar, which is only available to the wait staff, and customers will pay their tab not to the bartender like in a bar, but like they would normally at Lyric: at the register. He noted that the SLA even recently changed the application so the options are “customer bar” and “service” with no mention of a standup bar.

“We are not going into the bar business,” Stern added. “I don’t even think they’re anxious to serve liquor. They don’t expect to do a lot of business there and I expect they will just go back to beer and wine once the liquor license expires. We don’t want a bad feeling in the community.”

Lyric is located at the corner of Third Avenue and East 22nd Street.