UPPER WEST SIDE — The controversial Mexican restaurant Papasito's has had its liquor license renewal denied — and is in danger of closing by early next year.
The restaurant, which opened in September 2011, has had a rocky first year, temporarily closing four times for selling alcohol to minors.
In that time, it has become the bane of Community Board 7 and neighbors who complained frequently about customers fighting and yelling outside the bar and spilling out into the streets at 4 a.m. many nights a week.
In July, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer pledged to help shut down the restaurant: "I will intervene personally with the [State Liquor Authority] and make sure they know that Papasito is a dangerous nuisance."
The State Liquor Authority denied Papasito's reapplication, after taking into account the restaurant's confusion over management, as well as past violations, noise complaints, and current practices. The restaurant will have a four month grace period to operate its current liquor license, after which it will likely close.
At a hearing in early October, Nadine Chevreux, the restaurant's co-owner, testified that she had taken the community board's criticisms about late night noise into account and "really toned down" the restaurant. In the past, Chevreux has been largely absent from Papasito hearings at the SLA and in front of the CB7, leaving them to managers Fernando Mateo, president of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, and Eusebio Chavez.
Chevreux said Papasito's is now "a very family restaurant," but that the change was hindering the restaurant.
"Business has been very slow," she said.
Chevreux has owned the well-liked French restaurant Cafe du Soleil for more than a decade, but has not hit on success with the space across the street at 2728 Broadway, which was first Tokyo Pop and then Angelina Pizza Bar before its current incarnation as Papasito.
She claims the board is discriminating against the Dominican managers of the restaurant, who have another restaurant with the same name in Inwood, where, Chevreux said, they are more successful because they're in a Dominican community.
The SLA has delayed its decision on renewing that location's liquor license until Dec. 5 after mounting community complaints about the establishment and instances of illegal dancing witnessed by SLA inspectors.
"They are being unfair, the community board. I’m really disappointed. There is a bias there — for sure," she said.
Chevreux claimed at the hearing that members of the community board have told her: "If it was you and your husband, Mrs. Chevreux, two French people, we would have gladly given it to you, but not this bunch."
But SLA Chairman Dennis Rosen disavowed the allegation of discrimination, retorting, "I’m not sure I like the new bunch, as you call it, when within a period of two months, for example, there were four sales to minors."
The SLA also took issue with major discrepancies in Papasito's renewal application, including the fact that Chevreux never explained that she was no longer operating a Japanese restaurant and confusion over who is actually actively running the restaurant and responsible for past violations.
CB7 Chair Mark Diller testified that he was deeply troubled by the lack of transparency the board had encountered in Papasito's applications.
“We’ve got a moving cast of characters in terms of who is in charge and who is the licensee," said Diller.
The SLA was also displeased that Chevreux initially told the authority her restaurant closed at 2 a.m. and then revised her statement when Rosen told her the application said closing time was listed as 1 a.m.
Rosen repeatedly touched on the alcohol the restaurant serves during brunch, which starts at 11 a.m. on weekends. When he pointed out at the hearing that this activity was illegal, Chevreux explained that they don't start serving alcoholic drinks until 12 p.m.
But that time isn't advertised anywhere, said Rosen, who sent investigators to the restaurant.
“People don’t get drunk and out of control," Chevreux protested. "It’s the Upper West Side."