Tivoli’s owner said there would be no stand-up bar and the establishment would close at midnight, which calmed some concern from neighbors that the place could become a college watering hole. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The owner of the new Tivoli restaurant on Third Avenue has agreed to remove the word “bar” from his signage in exchange for the support of the community in his application for a full liquor license at the incoming establishment.
Owner Gus Kassimis voluntarily agreed to the change last Thursday at a meeting held by Community Board 6’s Business Affairs and Street Activities committee, which voted to approve the application.
Kassimis also agreed that the restaurant, which is replacing the popular Lyric Diner, would not have a stand-up bar. He also said in his application that the business would be closing by midnight every day, which quelled neighborhood anxieties about the place’s potential to become rowdy college student hang-out.
The following is an open letter to Department of Transportation Margaret Forgione from Waterside Plaza Tenants Association President Janet Handal:
We are delighted to see that ground has been broken on Asser Levy Park. However, the closing of Asser Levy has created a problem for eastbound traffic on 23rd Street, which needs to go uptown on First Avenue. A few years ago, a no left turn sign was posted at this intersection for eastbound traffic. To go uptown, people proceeded to Asser Levy, turned left and then left again on 25th Street and then right on First Avenue to proceed uptown. When I discussed this potential problem with Dan Garodnick when the park was being contemplated, I was assured that the traffic signage would be revisited. As 23rd is a major cross-town corridor, uptown access is needed at First Avenue. I checked yesterday and the no left sign is still up.
I also wanted to bring to your attention that the streetlights on the 42nd Street FDR off ramp are not working. There are also a number of streetlights on the FDR in the NYU Bellevue area, which are not working.
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.
Several months ago, a resident of the building I live in went to the Lyric Diner at Third Avenue and 21st Street to get his morning coffee and found it closed. For several days, we all waited anxiously to find out what had become of Lyric. Finally, we saw a sign in the window, saying that the restaurant was being remodeled and would reopen in a month.
A restaurant called Taverna has opened on the site of Lyric. Its hours are considerably shorter, its menu items more expensive. The police from the precinct and Police Academy and the students from the School of Visual Arts, who routinely jammed Lyric at lunchtime, are conspicuously absent.
Lyric is just the latest of several neighborhood coffee shops to go. Remember Pete’s, the coffee shop on Third Avenue and 21st Street with the lovely old tiled floors and the decorative metal ceiling? Their back room frequently resembles an annex of the police station and the academy. Then there was the Third Avenue diner around 24th Street. They served the best Sunday brunches in the neighborhood, and a very serviceable pizza as well. I understand that it is a difficult and expensive proposition to run a restaurant these days. Rents are high, help is not cheap and food is perishable. One remedy is to get a liquor license. Some coffee shops don’t always have them, but many do.Sunday brunch at that nice Third Avenue Diner always came with a bloody mary!
We have a few diners in the larger neighborhood, and they are always busy. But there are none in my immediate area. I wonder where the cops go for lunch?