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Art Restaurant Plan for Former Superdive Space Shot Down

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

EAST VILLAGE — A notorious East Village bar hoping to be reborn as a gallery/restaurant had its latest comeback attempt rejected.

Representatives behind the art-space-and-restaurant concept for 200 Avenue A — the former home of controversial keg-service spot Superdive — unveiled a plan to the local community board Monday to bring an eatery with a "salon-style atmosphere" to the much-talked-about property.

Despite a presentation from the project's partners, who outlined plans for "ecologically, politically and scientifically aware" art at the new restaurant, as well as locally-sourced food and a "tea sommelier," Community Board 3's liquor license committee summarily shot down the application.

"It would be lunacy" to back plans for a new estbalishment seeking to serve alcohol until 4 a.m. following the departure of Superdive, "one of the most egregious" nightlife offenders in the area, said committee member and bar owner David McWater.

"Who wants to look like the most ignorant person on the Lower East Side?" he asked. "I don't."

A handful of supporters spoke in favor of the concept, noting that alcohol sales would subsidize art programming at the space and that the neighborhood is losing much of its cultural cachét to Brooklyn.

But the committee still voted 5 to 1 to deny the project, citing the address's adverse history and proximity to dozens of other nightlife establishments.

Board members were more sympathetic to a separate application by nightlife impresario Matt Levine, who ran now-closed nightclub The Eldridge, to open in the shuttered Mason Dixon space on Essex Street.

Levine's pitch, the second in as many months, was to bring a New American restaurant to the sprawling space at 133 Essex St., which was recently padlocked by police for underage drinking and after-hours service.

Levine explained that the 4,000-square-foot space would be transformed by cutting the bar in half and doubling the size of the kitchen, replacing Mason Dixon's popular mechanical bull ride with dinner tables.

Residents of the condo building housing the ground-floor establishment railed against Levine's request to stay open until 4 a.m. on weekends, calling the restaurant concept a cover for a nightclub.

"Every single night there's people puking out front," one tenant complained about Mason Dixon.

Mason Dixon owner Rob Shamlian, who's also behind nearby establishments Spitzer's Corner, Los Feliz and Fat Baby, said he's been the victim of "non-stop harassment" from tenants since opening the Southern-style saloon.

Rob Shamlian (l.) of Mason Dixon and Matt Levine of The Eldridge presented before the board.
Rob Shamlian (l.) of Mason Dixon and Matt Levine of The Eldridge presented before the board.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Hedlund

People on both sides of the issue argued the merits of a late-night restaurant in the area, but ultimately the committee agreed that Shamlian should be allowed to pass his holdings on to Levine.

McWater called Shamlian's struggles an example of how "anyone in New York with a letter-writing campaign… can run a guy out of business," and also took issue with the local police precinct's crackdown on nightlife establishments.

"There's been a reign of terror in the 7th [Precinct]," he said of the recent high-profile closings of places like Mason Dixon, Gallery Bar and, most recently, Max Fish.

"I think anything the 7th has done… should be taken with a grain of salt."

The committee voted 4 to 2 to approve the plan, with one abstention.

The full community board will make a final vote on both applications at a May 24 meeting.