Thursday, October 16, 2008

Yet more bars?

To take your mind off the credit crisis, below is this month's roster of new bars applying for liquor licenses in our neighborhood. Anyone wanna bet on how many withdraw or how long before the recession closes their doors?

Am I exhibiting too much glee over the financial meltdown? I can't hide it. Like many of the wishful-thinking, I'm eagerly scrutinizing the neighborhood for evidence of recession. Of course, it's a little early to see significant change, but rents are down 30% in my building and for the first time in fifteen years there were vacancies through September.

SLA & DCA Licensing Committee
Monday, October 20, 6:30pm, 200 East 5th Street at Bowery
1. FY'2010 Capital & Expense Priorities
Renewal with Complaint History
2. The Box, 189 Chrystie St (op)
3. Sidewalk Bar & Restaurant, 94 Ave A (sidewalk café)
4. Dallas BBQ, 132 2nd Ave (sidewalk café)
5. Supper, 156 E 2nd St (sidewalk café)
Sidewalk Café Renewal/ULURP
6. Sugar Café, 200 Allen St (sidewalk café)
7. Zerza, 304 E 6th St (sidewalk café)
Applications within Resolution Areas
8. Tuck Shop, 68 E 1st St (rw)
9. Caffe Pepe Rosso, 127 Ave C (up/op)
10. 146 Orchard Rest, 146 Orchard St (add/op)
11. 6AB Restaurant, 507 E 6th St (bw)
12. Café Partners, 72 E 1st St (tw)
13. Jing Star (currently Sunrise 27), 27-29 Division St (trans/rw)
14. Vicky's Gourmet (currently Yummy House), 76 3rd Ave (trans/op)
15. Xunta, 174 1st Ave (up/op)
16. Bourgeois Pig, 122 E 7th St (alt)
17. Sushi Park, 77 E 7th St (up/op)
18. Mornir Stojnovic (currently Kush Lounge), 191 Chrystie St (trans/op)
19. Corp to be Formed (currently Mo Pitkins), 34 Ave A (trans/op)
20. SJD Entertainment (currently Summers Bar), 49 Clinton St (trans/op)
21. A&S Organic (currently Russo's), 40 Ave B (trans/rw)
New Liquor License Applications
22. Betty Café, 256 E 3rd St (tw)
23. Fifty Fathoms, 86 Allen St (op)
24. 384 Grand St (op)
25. Tanaghrisson, 90 E 10th St (op)
26. 1 Essex LLC, 1 Essex St (op)
27. Compas Group, 86 Orchard St (op)
28. Fritz, 417 E 9th St (rw)
29. Stanton Restaurant, 82 Stanton St (op)
30. Spice Thai Hot & Cool, 77 E 10th St (op)
31. 144 Division LLC, 144 Division St (op)
32. Persimmon LLC, 277 E 10th St (rw)
33. Rivington Sushi, 151 Rivington St (rw)
34. Porchetta, 110 E 7th St (rw)


Wilfrid said...

I really can't understand your attitude. Do you want to see Avenues B and C like they were ten years ago? I am raising children in the neighborhood, and I'll take bars and restaurants ahead of dark stores, empty streets, panhandling, drugs and violence any day.

Anonymous said...

Your list is out of date. I know of at least two that have already withdrawn for this month.

I also would prefer a few bars and restaurants to dark, forbidding streets.

rob said...

You didn't live here thirty years ago, Wilfrid. On what do you base your judgment? It's my guess that you "really can't understand [my] attitude" because you didn't live here back then.

I moved here to live in that neighborhood as it was. I came here to be part a of it, and not to change it. Yes it was scary and impoverished; but it was also wonderful and crazy and different and fluid and wild and unique. And it was a community.

Now it's safe for baby carriages. the Upper East Side, the Upper West Side, Chelsea, Greenwich Village, SoHo, NoHo, Nolita, Brooklyn Heights, Carol Gardens, Park Slope, Riverdale....

I see people saunter into a neighborhood, transform it in their own image and declare it improved, having no clue what they replaced and what was lost.

No, it wasn't all excitement. But it wasn't bourgeois. I don't like to throw that word around, but it carries discourse baggage that may make it easier to understand what I see.

The world is not simply divided between the comfortable good life and all undesirable states. Some goods are accompanied with downsides. That's life.

Comfortable domesticity has great aesthetic beauty that I appreciate too. It becomes dangerous when it displaces all other forms of life.

Your list of withdrawals is out of date. Five bars have already withdrawn.

kenneth said...

Good for you Rob.

Al said...

I think the argument here points to a major problem. The CB has a limited tool set to for advocating on behalf on the citizens. The most powerful seems to be alcohol licenses. When all you have is a hammer...

The issue isn't more bars so much as the issue is less everything else. What can the CB do to attract a few business offices that will provide morning, midday, and 5pm - 7pm walking traffic. That would attract more coffee shops and bakeries because there'd be customers.

What else can the CB do to fill the empty spaces with culture, business, and necessities so that there's less real estate for bars? How can we fight FOR things instead of AGAINST things, because fights against powerful forces are slowly losing, but a fight to displace one powerful force with others in the community interest would be much more successful.

rob said...

Besides denying licenses, there's little CB's can do to attract other businesses.

The problem is this: bars are high cash-flow businesses able to afford higher rents than almost any other business save banks. The reason we have so many bars is not just that bars want to be where the patrons crowd, it's because landlords want top dollar commercial tenants.

The CB has no tool to force landlords to accept lower-rent commercial tenants, outside of getting the city to rezone a commercial district as residential, which is pretty much impossible.

The only effective tool at the CB's disposal is the liquor license process.

It is more effective than you think: last night, in every case in which residents appeared to oppose a license, the CB rejected the applicant, while approving all the unopposed applicants. So just showing up and speaking against a bar sufficed to prevent a liquor license applicant from getting approval at the CB level.

If a landlord can't get a bar in his storefront, he'll eventually have to accept a lower-paying tenant.

Keeping bars out just requires community vigilance and perseverance.

Wilfrid said...

Rob, I base my judgment on what the neighborhood was like twenty years ago. No, I didn't live there then, but I know what it was like. Yes, it would be wonderful if the EV/LES could be reserved exclusively for a communitarian, bohemian utopia, where you get all the group hugs and all the art, and not so much of the crack and guns.

It's not real. Al makes excellent points. I'm sad too that it's so tough to open, say, a book store or a bakery, because you can never sell enough books or cakes to pay the lease. But the reality is that keeping bars and banks out of the neighborhood will not conjure 'mom-n-pop' businesses out of thin air.

It will just leave the buildings empty and the streets dark.

The effort to depress the hospitality industry will never be enough to drive the cost of leases down (a severe recession might). It just causes random hardship.

rob said...

On the contrary, Wilfrid, when Penmanship had trouble getting its license, the landlord dumped them and brought in Kim's video.

Landlords don't let their stores remain dark when they can't get a bar. What are you smoking, man? They rent out to other viable businesses.

Six years ago we had a copy center on B&11th and another A&10th, both successful businesses serving the community, both replaced by restaurants -- not because we don't need copy centers, but because bars draw on a bottomless well of outside patrons and can pay higher rents than businesses that serve the locals.

Do you see the problem? Small businesses that serve the community are viable in our neighborhood, but they have been replaced with nightlife that serves outsiders because landlords can't resist the huge profit margin they bring.

In other words, an unregulated market screws people and neighborhoods and communities.

Do you want local services or just a nightlife destination?

From your comments (hugs and communitarianism), I don't think you have a clue what it was like to live here before gentrification. A community is not 'communitarian' hugs. It's rag-tag, diverse people thrown together, enduring tough times both together and in their own way, in a marginal place that no one else wants, that no one else is watching, that belongs to the people who live in it.

Why do you think graffiti art and murals and all sorts of anarchist forms of expression thrived here? Because the landlords didn't give a damn, the city didn't give a damn, the developers didn't give a damn.

No one cared. The place was ours.

That's where it all came from. That's what's gone. And it will never come back in that unique form. But that's no reason for people here not to try to take their community back as much as they can. And that means opposing liquor licenses -- to keep nightlife at bay, reduce commercial rents, bring in local services and preserve what local services remain.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how you can even say Dallas BBQ and Sugar Cafe are bars. In most cases, a restaurant having a beer and wine license is good for the business and therefore likely to make it a good neighbor. Its only in a handful of rare cases, most notably China One and Le Souk where its a problem. I find the fact that they consider San Loco being able to sell Margaritas or Brass Monkey to sell Wine Coolers on the same level as Liquid on Ludlow Street catering to out of neighborhood db's to be crazy. I want there to be more spaces like Mo Pitkins, 200 Orchard and the Slipper Room so there can be more performance space around.

I'm on 14th Street between A and B and we've had a number of storefronts go vacant nearby recently. We get some new construction and what do we get? A Dunkin Donuts and a Hot and Crusty, both of which I consider to be much more of a blight than any bar or restaurant. They should hand out donut licenses.

rob said...

Who said Dallas BBQ and Sugar Cafe are bars? The roster of license applicants includes bars and restaurants, but neither the committee nor the SLA nor the local public treat all bars and restaurants alike. That's the point of *hearing* each applicant individually at committee and later at the SLA itself.

But it is a much deeper problem than just "a handful of rare cases." When a street fills with nightlife, even a closed-door place contributes to the party scene. The committee is often confronted with this irony: after having approved a few disruptive places on a block, they are compelled to deny quiet places because residents on the street simply cannot endure more crowds.

And a nightlife district raises all commercial rents so the neighborhood loses its local services.

And it's a lot more than just a few rare cases. Bloomberg's smoking ban and the city's encouragement of sidewalk cafes has given us open 'French' doors in nearly all nightlife. What used to be drinking behind closed doors is now on the street for all to hear. To keep up with competition, every place conforms.

Even so, the situation would be much better if the nightlife scene here were less empty partying and more about performance. The East Village once had many performance spaces -- history-making performance spaces like the 5 Spot -- without being an upscale party scene. Look at Continental: it gave up its stage to become just a bar. Drinking is where the money is today, not performance. Performance space used to be a draw; now it seems to be a burden and a luxury where commercial values are so high that maximization of profit rules.

The underlying problem with the LES/EV today is the pressure of money. The overwhelming presence of those who have it has diluted and trivialized the culture, largely eliminating the counterculture -- which was the East Village -- while the opportunities to profit have pushed out mom and pops. Maybe it's just the culture of today's money, but the correlation between entering money and neighborhood decline is everywhere obvious.

I wouldn't worry about chain stores between A&B on 14th Street. Chain stores hit heavy traffic flow, they don't go down the byways and they don't create their own traffic (unless you're talking Ikea or Trader Joe's or Whole Foods), so they are much less of a menace to a neighborhood.

They are a blight -- a serious blight -- but they only sprout where there are already customers to be served. Bars bring patrons, so they spread into every corner and feed the growth of more bars.

The 10003 zip code has the second highest concentration of liquor licenses in the nation. 10009 and 10002 are not far behind. If only they were all performance spaces.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the East Village had a city-wide reputation for being the place to go for cutting-edge arts. People took this place seriously. Now it has a reputation for being a fun college-age drinking scene. Well that's better than being an empty suburban mall, I guess, but it's still quite a decline and nothing to celebrate.

Yes, it's change, and "New York is all about change." I think we can do better. New York deserves better than Bloombergian money worship. At least, I think it does. I thought it did. Maybe it doesn't.
The standard for getting a restaurant beer and wine license is quite low. As long as the applicant is not a felon and the application is in order, the SLA can't legally deny.

But I don't see that having a beer and wine license makes the restaurant a better neighbor. Without the beer and wine the restaurant probably won't survive, in which case it is no neighbor, or it survives a daytime/early evening service. It's not like a place that can't serve any liquor is going to hire live bands to attract customers. It might turn into a cafe with poetry readings, which would be great.