Locals Complain UWS Eatery's 'New Orleans' Facade Will Ruin Historic Feel

By Emily Frost on September 3, 2014 4:39pm 

Slideshow
 Neighbors opposed changes to the facade of a restaurant along the block that would have doors opening to the street. 
Sambuca Restaurant Space
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UPPER WEST SIDE — West 72nd Street will soon feel more like Bourbon Street under a plan by local restaurateurs to redesign their space's exterior with French doors and gas lamps, angry residents claim.

The 28-year-old restaurant Sambuca near Central Park West shuttered in late December, with the operators behind Blue Ribbon and P.J. Clarke's taking over the lease. After the transition, changes proposed to the unnamed venue's facade created a stir among locals who called the design "gaudy" and "inappropriate" for the Central Park Historic District. 

The residents, from neighboring buildings including The Dakota and The Majestic, worried the new entryway — made up of two 10-foot wide, 8-foot high French doors that will open onto the street, a 4-foot wide awning above the doors, and the addition of three gas lanterns — would disrupt the feel of the block.

"It’s a residential street, and they want to change it and make it into a New Orleans-style street," argued resident Richard Bloom.

Others worried the doors opening onto the street would encourage the restaurant to add a sidewalk cafe, which would only worsen the congestion stemming from its proximity to places like Strawberry Fields and The Dakota.

Despite the outcry, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the plans on Aug. 5, citing that the new facade was contextually appropriate within the Central Park Historic District. At the hearing, project architect Steve Wygoda assured the commission that the restaurant was not zoned for a sidewalk cafe.

In a last-ditch effort Tuesday night, residents pleaded with Community Board 7 at its full board meeting to oppose the plans, even though the board's role is only advisory. 

"That's not a historic approach; that’s just a garage door open to the sidewalk," said Al Salsano, president of West 72nd Street building the Oliver Cromwell. "It is wrong. Please help us,"

But several board members agreed with the LPC that the agency's role was not to decide whether it would make the street busier or noisier, or even if the changes would pave the way for a future sidewalk cafe, but only on the appropriateness of the restoration.

"Right now, [patrons will be] eating inside... that’s not inappropriate," said Gabrielle Palitz, co-chairwoman of the board's preservation committee, which originally approved the plans in July.

The board ultimately voted 22 to 16 to approve the plans. 

The spot's new owners did not respond to request for comment. 

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