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Wine Bar Finds New Home After Fight With Ritzy Neighbors

By Leslie Albrecht | July 6, 2011 7:01am | Updated on July 6, 2011 6:52am

By Leslie Albrecht

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER WEST SIDE — A year after residents of a celeb-filled building hired lobbyists and lawyers to crush a proposed wine bar on posh Central Park West, the vino venue has found new life on a scruffier corner.

Community Board 7 on Tuesday night backed liquor license and sidewalk cafe applications for a wine bar that Upper West Sider Greg Hunt wants to open in a rundown building on Columbus Avenue and West 71st Street.

The vote marked sweet victory for Hunt, who tasted defeat last year when residents of 15 Central Park West — where Denzel Washington, Sting and Lloyd Blankfein reportedly own apartments — railed against his plan to open a wine bar in neighboring 25 Central Park West.

Hunt insisted the wine bar would be a classy, understated establishment, but the block's powerful residents feared the bar would draw downtown party crowds, drug dealing and paparazzi to their quiet streets.

Residents of both buildings hired high-powered lobbying firms to fight Hunt's proposal.

Community Board 7 ultimately backed Hunt's idea, but residents of the ritzy buildings pushed back, hiring lawyers to plead their case with the city's Department of Buildings.

The legal maneuver worked and the city ruled that a wine bar wasn't allowed at 25 Central Park West. But Hunt vowed to keep his wine bar idea afloat.

On Tuesday he made good on that promise, telling Community Board 7 that he plans to open a "grown-up cafe and cocktail lounge" that will play Billie Holiday music and cater to an upscale crowd.

"I want to create a place where we can go and not be surrounded by 21-year-olds," Hunt said.

Hunt wants to open the wine bar on the ground floor of dilapidated 240 Columbus Avenue, which has been vacant since restaurant Penang closed several years ago.

Barbara Adler of the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District praised Hunt's proposal, saying it will clean up a corner that's grown increasingly shabby in recent years.

After Penang closed five years ago, a homeless person regularly defecated in front of the vacant storefront, which is owned by a "wealthy Spanish clothing designer" who doesn't maintain the building, Adler said.

But some Community Board 7 members opposed Hunt's plan because his wine bar will have an enclosed sidewalk cafe.

The glassed-in seating areas are a thorn in the side of some Upper West Side officials, who complain that they take up too much sidewalk space and become nuisances when they're abandoned after restaurants go out of business.

But others said the new wine bar would be a welcome improvement on an eyesore that's marred Columbus Avenue for years.

Community Board 7 member Helen Rosenthal said she was swayed by the economic boost the wine bar could give to the neighborhood.

The business would create 35 to 40 jobs, according to Hunt.

"In this economy, when the largest problem our community is facing is jobs, we should welcome an independent business owner who wants to revitalize and bring jobs to our community," Rosenthal said.

"We can't be held back by a dislike of sidewalk cafes."