Stuyvesant Town management said cafe staffers would undergo training to prevent customers from being overserved. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Stuyvesant Town residents expressed concern at a town hall last Wednesday about the possibility of increased noise and rowdiness if beer and wine were to be served at Five Stuy Cafe, while some others voiced their support for a license.
ST/PCV general manager Rick Hayduk, café operator Frank Traina and on-site manager Murat Alpay offered information at the town hall about the addition of beer and beer and wine to the menu, and some in attendance took issue with Hayduk and Traina’s assessment that the proposal had “overwhelming support” from residents.
“It’s very hard to create community but it’s very easy to destroy it,” one resident said. “Your position would be much stronger not just by asking people who frequent the cafe but everyone in Stuyvesant Town. The general statement about the ‘overwhelming demand’ just sounds like advertising copy. It doesn’t sound very convincing.”
Hayduk said that management would be willing to put together a survey in the days following the town hall that could be emailed to residents to get their feedback.
Visana, the speakeasy style cocktail lounge that operated behind a pizzeria across from Stuyvesant Town, has closed.
Opened two summers ago at 321 First Avenue, serving gluten free pizza in the front and cocktails with organic spirits in the back, business was rocky from nearly the start due to quality of life complaints from neighbors over noise. Police were also called to the scene over an incident of underage drinking in 2016.
In January, the business lost its liquor license, according to a document from the State Liquor Authority. The SLA cited several reasons, in a decision that was issued last November. Reasons included allowing the business to become noisy and “disorderly” enough to attract police attention, allowing dancing without a cabaret license and not conforming with regulations regarding the employment of security guards.
Meanwhile, according to David Jaffee, Visana’s owner, the business is now sold. Reached via email on Monday, he said he closed the lounge due to problems he was having with neighbors. He said he thought Visana might have succeeded elsewhere but said two neighbors in particular “made it their mission to always call police.”
By Sabina Mollot
That was fast.
A rep for CWCapital, who’d been scheduled to request a wine and beer license for Oval Café on Thursday, pulled that request on Tuesday.
The license request for the Stuyvesant Town coffee joint had been scheduled to take place at a meeting of Community Board 6. However, by Tuesday afternoon, that application was scrapped due to a timing issue by that representative, Spencer Rothchild of Barrio Foods consulting firm, said Sandro Sherrod, the chair of CB6.
Sherrod, who’s also a resident of Stuy Town, said he didn’t want to comment on the license request until he actually heard the proposal. And the request could be made again at another time.
A spokesperson for CWCapital said the application was pulled pending consultation with community leaders.
However, this was after the plan was blasted by John Marsh, president of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, and Council Member Dan Garodnick.
Garodnick told Town & Village he’d made his feelings known to CWCapital expressing how “wholly inappropriate” he believes it is to have alcoholic drinks sold at the Oval.
“To change (the café) to a place where people congregate for beers changes the entire establishment to something different and makes it less family friendly,” said Garodnick early on Tuesday.
He added that he was annoyed about having to find out about the plan not from CW but from CB6. Still, he said he hoped management would rethink the plan.
“They were responsive when we raised concerns about the Public Safety office and I hope they will consider this as well in the community’s interest,” he said. This was in reference to management’s agreeing to remove a driveway from in front of the new Public Safety office for the officers’ vehicles in response to residents’ complaints.
Though he stressed he was speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the Tenants Association, Marsh also said he opposed a liquor license in a post on the TA’s Facebook page.
“I feel like if you want a drink go back to your apartment or to a neighborhood restaurant or bar,” he said. “The Oval is a place that was designed for peace and quiet. Coffee is one thing. Alcohol is another.”
Local blog Stuyvesant Town Report also blasted the plan, saying it would encourage rowdy behavior. CW, the author wrote, “should be thoroughly embarrassed.”
Following the news about the application being pulled, Garodnick said, “We appreciate that CompassRock has pulled this application. Selling beer and wine in the Oval Café could have very harmful consequences and we are relieved that management has taken a step back.”
Susan Steinberg, chair of the TA, added that even though the application has been pulled for the time being, tenants should still let CB6 know if they have something to say about it.
“Of course, the TA is pleased that the application was withdrawn and will be given more consideration,” she said. “There are many issues to be addressed and reasons why such a license is troubling. In the meantime, it is extremely important that residents with concerns email their comments to the CB6 (firstname.lastname@example.org) because these comments will be held for the future should the license be reapplied for.”
Not everyone had been against the idea though.
A longtime Stuy Town resident, Kay Vota, told T&V, “I don’t have a problem with it as long as people act responsibly.”
Still, she said she guessed there would be some controversy.
“You can please some of the people some of the time but you can’t please everybody all the time, and in Stuyvesant Town you never have anything new where people don’t have something to say about it.”
Another resident, who’s lived in Stuy Town for four years, David Burstein, also said he didn’t think it would have been a problem.
“The whole neighborhood is surrounded by bars; I don’t think it would have been detrimental. I think people would be respectful and appropriate about it,” he said. Burstein added that for cafés, it’s “tough to stay afloat” without selling alcohol. “It’s the reality of the world we are living in.”
Since its opening in the summer of 2012, Oval Café has sold coffee, pastries and sandwiches and in the summer, offered a clear view of sunbathers on the lawn.
Ironically, though there was never a liquor license previously at Oval Café or the amenity space that came before it, Oval Lounge, it was once the site of a bar-style brawl. It was there where brokers for then-owner Tishman Speyer got into a fight at a private party, with one getting bashed over the head with a beer bottle.
This article was updated to include an additional comment from Council Member Garodnick, a comment from Susan Steinberg and information from Sandro Sherrod and CWCapital.
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.