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East Village Has Company When it Comes to Packing Bars into the Neighborhood

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

MANHATTAN — East Village residents got some sobering statistics last month when a retail survey of Avenue A revealed that more than a third of all storefronts on the stretch are bars or restaurants.

The study, conducted by a Community Board 3 urban planning fellow, showed that 51 of the 147 retail properties along the half-mile street were dining or drinking establishments — many with liquor licenses allowing them to serve alcohol until 4 a.m.

But while the bar culture of in this neighborhood has seemed more visible in recent years, DNAinfo found other stretches in Manhattan contain similarly high concentrations of bars and restaurants.

On Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, which has long been viewed as playground for nearby New York University students, 26 bars and restaurants cover the four-block stretch between Sixth Avenue and LaGuardia Place, according to an informal survey.

This area has become so saturated with nightlife options that Vogue editor Anna Wintour even turned up at a community board meeting last month to rail against an incoming restaurant near her Sullivan Street townhouse.

“I am completely concerned,” Wintour reportedly said at the meeting before rallying fellow neighbors to shout their disapproval. “This is a unique historic neighborhood. I’m also concerned for the safety of the kids here.”

Just south of Avenue A, Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side counts 19 bars/restaurants on the three-block stretch between Houston and Delancey streets.

While many of these places have arrived without incident, a decidedly déclassé bar featuring drinking games doesn’t necessarily fit with everyone’s idea of a neighborhood pub.

“A frat bar is not representative of this once-bohemian neighborhood,” said Community Board 3 District Manager Susan Stetzer, a longtime East Villager who counts the proliferation of bars as one of the board’s most pressing issues.

“Beer pong is not the Lower East Side.”

Among the residential high-rises on the Upper East Side, DNAinfo found that Second Avenue between 73rd and 78th streets counts 27 drinking and dining places, including such establishments as the unambiguously named Stumble Inn.

Even in the burgeoning residential neighborhood of Inwood, a two-block stretch of Dyckman Street features seven bars and restaurants, including the popular yet controversial Mamajuana Café.

“There is definitely a degeneration of the neighborhood,” Maggie Clarke, who’s lived in Inwood since 1979, said at a community board meeting last month regarding the nightspot’s bid to renew its liquor license.

But proponents of nightlife argue that new bars and restaurants helped paved the way for residents by opening in formerly down-and-out areas like Chelsea and the Meatpacking District and making them trendy.

Paul Seres, president of the New York Nightlife Association, said that in many cases nightlife tenants are the only operators that can pay the high rents landlords ask, especially on Avenue A.

“There very few commercial operators that can afford these leases,” said the longtime Lower East Sider, who is also a member of Community Board 4, which represents Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen.

“You have banks and Duane Reades, you have us — restaurants or bars — or let [the storefronts] stay vacant, and see what that does to your property value.”

Seres explained that more communication — and less blind hostility — on the part of residents and nightlife operators will lead to more treaties in the neighbors-versus-nightlife war.

“Everybody has the right to sleep and everybody has the right to their quality of life,” he said, “but New York City is an economic engine that goes 24 hours a day.”