East Village Braces for New Mardi Gras-Inspired Bar
By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
EAST VILLAGE — Bourbon Street is coming to Avenue B.
A Mardi Gras-themed saloon is set to open in the coming weeks on a stretch of Avenue B near East Third Street that has weathered its share of neighbors-versus-nightlife spats in the past.
The new bar Billy Hurricane’s, as well as a smaller sister bar downstairs, aims to bring a taste of Louisiana to the East Village, from Cajun cuisine to a New Orleans-inspired aesthetic, its owners explained.
But even though its door have yet to open, the space has already been forced to contend with negative criticisms that have cast the bar as a theme-park-style venue that will attract rowdy crowds to the residential area.
“There’s always going to be somebody who doesn’t like it and doesn’t want you there,” said co-owner Rob Morton, 37, who has focused on developing the attached downstairs bar, Idle Hands, which will feature dozens of bourbons and rotating microbrews.
“It’s not that we’re sitting here trying to hide what we’re doing,” he added.
The backlash began in April when a preview of the space presumptively dubbed the bar a “vomitorium” and wrote off the venture as another destination for the daiquiri-swilling and frat-boy sets.
“I can smell the vomit already!” added another local blogger, EV Grieve. whose blog frequently bemoans the passing of the East Village of yore.
Morton responded to the snipes by saying his group is simply following a long list of glitzier nightlife establishments that have flocked to the formerly gritty area.
“You can’t yearn for a neighborhood that was,” he said.
Still, this newest attempt to open on the lower part of Avenue B comes after a years-long battle with hookah lounge Le Souk a block north, which became a constant source of consternation for residents before ultimately closing late last year.
The two-level nightclub created noise and traffic complaints for surrounding neighbors, and shuttered only after the State Liquor Authority pulled its license for overcrowding.
“It took a lot of work to get that place closed,” said Susan Stetzer, district manager of Community Board 3, which voted in March to approve Billy Hurricane’s liquor license transfer from the previous owner as long as the bar agreed to a list of stipulations from the board.
“Since [Le Souk] closed, the residents say it’s like night and day,” she noted.
Morton said that he and his team have already started reaching out to the community to quell concerns — even going so far as to visit a neighbor’s apartment next door to see if music from the bar’s sound system reached her walls (it didn’t).
“The neighbors love us,” he said, noting that Billy’s Hurricane will include novelties like a “Wheel of Shots” and a snow cone machine.
“While we might be fun-loving, we’re not an after-hours club.”
In the ’80s and ’90s the space played host to the notorious late-night party “Save the Robots.”
And while critics of the new bar have waxed nostalgic about the popular underground dance party, Billy Hurricane’s co-partner Kyle Radzyminski, 31, makes no illusions about its past.
“I’ve seen a picture of Andy Warhol standing right there,” said Radzyminski, who also has a hand in the equally kitschy Thunder Jackson’s in Greenwich Village and Point Break in Midtown. “But I want to erase the stigma of this place as a coke den.”
Both Morton and Radzyminski made a point of stressing that some of their partners live in and around the East Village and have families themselves.
“We do care about the neighborhood,” Morton said, noting his group is simply doing “what the neighborhood is known for, which is nightlife.”
But the bar may still have a ways to go to prove to its detractors that a place with shot specials and bawdy Bourbon Street décor is ready for Avenue B.
“This neighborhood’s only getting better,” Radzyminski said. “It’s just that big fear of change.”