By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Despite some neighbors’ concerns about connections to a comedy club that’s frequently cited for nighttime noise, the Community Board 6 Business Affairs and Street Activities (BASA) committee approved a new vegan café’s request for a beer and wine license. This was after initially rejecting the application in January.
Committee chair Keith Powers said at a committee meeting at the end of February that when VSpot, the new restaurant at 241 East 24th Street, originally came before the committee, they were rejected because there were concerns about the restaurant’s connection to the New York Comedy Club next door, so the committee asked the owner to come back and explain the connection.
“People felt like they might be artificially expanding the comedy club,” said Powers.
VSpot owner Daniel Carabaño explained that he is fully responsible for operating the restaurant, and New York Comedy Club co-owner Scott Lindner said at the meeting that the partnership between the club and the café was merely out of expediency when the vegan restaurant wanted to open a location in the space.
“The only reason we’re on the liquor application and operating agreement is that the space was sitting there vacant since 2007 so we brokered the deal,” he said. “I don’t know how to run a restaurant so we leave that all up to Danny.”
The committee’s approval of the beer and wine license included the stipulation that the café close at 11 p.m. and that there be no live performances.
Residents who were at the meeting to express concern about the noise issues said that they were worried about the new business becoming an extension of the comedy club because the café had started hosting live performances, specifically a band during a recent weekend brunch.
“It was a nice little jazz band but I don’t want to hear it through my wall,” said a resident of an adjacent building. “I’ve got bagpipes; do you want to hear my bagpipes?”
Former BASA chair Nicole Paikoff, who lives across the street from the comedy club and has been struggling with noise issues there for years, said that she has been particularly frustrated since current owners Lindner and Emilio Savone took over in 2014.
“If this was a straightforward vegan café just closing at 11,” she said. “I wouldn’t be upset. But community members have been dealing with the crowds around the comedy club at all hours for years. I know you want to expand. You’re partners with them and why would we give a license to people who can’t deal with problems you already have?”
Other residents who live in the area who came in support of VSpot said they felt that the new business was being unfairly judged based on the comedy club’s previous reputation and felt that the café adds to the community.
“If neighborhood character is a factor, the fact that we have a vegan coffee shop near a yoga studio should be important,” said Jessica Braunstein, who lives in a building next to the VSpot. “Let’s not make it so restrictive for a family-run business that we set a precedent. We’re just speculating (about perceived bad behavior) at this point.”
Gramercy Park Block Association board member Sean Brady argued that he was concerned about the risks associated with not speculating, given the issues with similar businesses in the past.
“The community board doesn’t have an enforcement arm,” he said. “People promise they’ll live up to the stipulations. I’ve watched people agree to stipulations and then immediately violate them.”
The New York State Liquor Authority will have the final say on whether or not the café is granted the beer and wine license. The community board’s role is advisory but can influence the SLA’s decision.