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Garment Center Hoping to Become Next Meatpacking District

By DNAinfo Staff on April 27, 2011 6:24am

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MIDTOWN — The clothing made in Midtown's Garment District may be cutting edge, but when it comes to nightlife and fine dining, some complain the pickings are slimmer than the models who'll wear them to down the runway.

After the sun sets, many of the area's streets — bustling with seamstresses, designers and fabric-makers by day — become eerily quiet, with one dark, shuttered storefront after the next.

"Most people are pretty much gone by 10 p.m.," said Murray Hill's Liz Oats, 25, who works on West 38th Street. "It's like an airport late at night when everything's closed."

But the area's local business improvement district is hoping to change that with a new push to attract big-name bars and restaurants to draw new life after-hours. While they're steering clear of noisy clubs, they're looking to increase the buzz, envisioning what some have gone as far as to call a new Meatpacking District.

"There's no destination dining in this neighborhood. There's really no destination anything," said Barbara Randall, president of the Fashion Center BID, which is leading the push. "The neighborhood has always closed at night."

To help turn the tide, the BID sent out a letter last week to big-name operators trying to sell them on the area's perks, including its 91,000 employees, access to public transportation, and proximity to hubs like Herald and Times squares.

In addition to building the neighborhood's profile, the BID hopes district businesses will benefit directly, helping to bolster the city's struggling garment manufacturing industry, which has been hard-hit by rising rents, higher manufacturing costs and steep competition from overseas.

Veteran operator Paul Seres is one of the first who plans to bring a bold new concept to the area. Seres, who serves on Community Board 4 and the New York Nightlife Association, has spent the past two years planning Patuá, a new 8,000 square-foot, 3-floor venue on the top floors of 530 Seventh Ave. at West 39th Street.

Already, there are some after-work draws in the neighborhood: Stitch Bar & Lounge on West 37th Street, the Fashion Forty Lounge on West 40th Street, the Houndstooth Pub on Eighth Avenue.

But Seres hopes Patuá, which is slated to open by the end of the year, will create new buzz, with roof-top panoramic views of Manhattan as well as two floors for fine dining that can convert into conference rooms during the day.

With so many spaces and so few residents, he believes the district is a prime spot for a nightlife destination.

"It seems like it's perfect for it," he said.

But others wonder whether the Garment center — one of the last manufacturing hubs in Manhattan — really has the potential become to become a hip spot like Meatpacking.

"This is not an area to hang out. Because we work here, we don't want to go out here," said Jose Ballena, 44, who has worked as an embroiderer in the district for the past 15 years and prefers heading north to the 40s and 50s for fun.

"That way, when they call us [to try to make us come back to work after we've left], we are far," he said, smiling.

Alise Haigazian, 23, a bartender at the trendy Fashion Forty Lounge, was more intrigued by the idea.

While she thinks "the new Meatpacking" title is "wishful thinking," she sees potential.

"This could be the new Lower East Side," she mused. "Who knows?"