By Carla Zanoni
WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Many Upper Manhattan residents have embraced the area's new upscale restaurants and trendy, bottle service-only lounges, but the owner of a new watering hole is counting on a clientele looking for something in between a posh club and the neighborhood's pervasive dive bars.
Washington Heights and Inwood native Jose Morales, 32, believes his new bar and restaurant Apt. 78 at 4455 Broadway will provide the perfect alternative to establishments that are either too dingy or too swank for locals.
"Uptown has so much potential, and the new places that have opened are great," Morales, 32, said. "But why do I have to be made up all the time or listen to one genre of music? How can we hit it right in the middle, bring people together? I asked myself, 'How can we play Pink Floyd while still serving the kid with the jeans and fitted hat?' That was our goal."
Judging by the crowd that filled the bar on Tuesday night, about a week after its official opening, Morales has struck that balance, filling the bar with an ethnically diverse crowd that wore everything from red patent leather stilettos, to snow boots and designer sneakers as they listened to a mix of classic hip hop.
"Believe me when I say this, never have I ever partaken in an establishment's gathering of such eclectic, professional, and culturally familiarized peers," wrote Rainey Skates, a contributor to the Upper Manhattan-based neighborhood blog Uptown Collective, after the blog's holiday party at the bar.
Morales, who was able to open the successful health-conscious restaurant La Sala on Dyckman Street last year after saving money from three "day jobs," has made a point of getting to know his market.
Aside from consulting with lifelong friends and family in the area, he said he also looked to friends from the local church or teachers at area schools to see what the community needed and wanted.
"It been amazing to receive such support from the community and work with them to meet their needs," Morales said.
That community connection came in handy when the 34th Precinct originally spoke out against Morales' liquor license application earlier this year.
"I sat down with the Precinct later and asked for their support," Morales said. "I told them that if you look at all of the business owners in the community the majority are not from our community. I'm a born and raised kid from this community whose mom still lives on Dongan Street across from Fort Tryon Park. How can I, out of everyone, not get the support?"
Morales prevailed and he received the precinct's blessing to open the bar. He was granted a full liquor license from the State Liquor Authority this month.
The bar now operates on a limited basis, opening a few nights per week and closing at midnight or 2 a.m.
Next week, Morales hopes to open the kitchen and serve a small menu of gourmet comfort foods like vegetarian bread Panini sandwiches (including a vegan option), cheese plates to go with the wine selection, salads and an espresso bar.
"We want people to feel like this is their living room," he said. "Come in, take off your coat and stay a while."