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Vudu Lounge Manager Ditches Country Theme for Next Venture

By Mary Johnson | December 28, 2011 6:56am
The general manager of Vudu Lounge, located on First Avenue between East 77th and East 78th streets, is looking to open a new venue in Gramercy.
The general manager of Vudu Lounge, located on First Avenue between East 77th and East 78th streets, is looking to open a new venue in Gramercy.
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DNAinfo/Gabriela Resto-Montero

GRAMERCY — He went for spaghetti instead of western.

After his concept for a new honky-tonk style country/western bar in Gramercy was thoroughly bashed by residents and community board members two months ago, the general manager of the controversial Vudu Lounge returned to Community Board 6 last week — this time pitching the prospect of a new Italian restaurant.

Michael Stein came before the Community Board 6 business affairs and street activities committee — which reviews liquor license requests — back in October in the hopes of replacing what was once the Black Bear Lodge, on Third Avenue between East 21st and East 22nd Street, with a new bar.

The committee rejected his proposal, in large part because of his connection with the Vudu Lounge, a nightclub on the Upper East Side that has been the subject of ample community concern, including a reprimand from City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, who reportedly called the club "a bad neighbor."

At the meeting in October, Stein attempted to distance himself from Vudu, swearing off DJs and live music and dancing.

"I’m not coming here to turn [the new venue] into a nightclub," Stein said at the time.

"This is his opportunity to kind of break out," added Stein’s attorney, Matthew Leone.

Still, the community board voted not to support Stein’s proposal, a negative resolution that would then be passed along to the State Liquor Authority if Stein decided to pursue a liquor license through the agency.

At the time, Stein declined to comment on what he intended to do. But last week, he showed up to the meeting in an informal capacity to run another idea past the committee — this one for a new Italian restaurant.

Stein, who confirmed at the meeting that he has already signed a lease for the location at 274 Third Avenue, said he has enlisted a chef who has worked at both the Bellagio and the Wynn hotels in Last Vegas to create his menu.

The venue will include a bar that seats about 10 people and will have a total capacity of about 74, Stein added.

After listening to the revised concept, the committee members brought up the subject of closing times. The committee has been routinely requiring new establishments to close at 2 a.m., earlier than the 4 a.m. closing time allowed under city guidelines and preferred by bars.

But Stein remained vague on that topic, saying that he wanted "late-night dining" to be a component of his ultimate business plan.

"I just want to be able to stay competitive," he added.

Committee members remained skeptical about what kind of patrons would go to an Italian restaurant with no nightclub component after 2 a.m.

"It’s a very sensitive neighborhood," said committee co-chair Steve Dubnoff, who recalled how Stein’s last presentation to the committee "went over like a lead balloon."

Several community residents attended the meeting to again express their concerns about someone affiliated with Vudu Lounge opening any type of venue in their neighborhood. Committee member Aaron Humphrey added that he "felt bad" that Stein signed a lease for the venue without gauging the community’s attitude toward late-night bars.

Stein dutifully listened to all the comments and reassured those at the meeting that his goal was not to open a Gramercy incarnation of Vudu Lounge. He promised to return next month with a finalized concept so that the committee could vote on whether he could move forward — with the community’s approval.