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'Quiet' Bar Plan for Murray Hill Met With a Loud 'No'

By Mary Johnson | January 13, 2012 6:53am
Bar owner Sasha Petraske has built a reputation on serving high-end cocktails at so-called
Bar owner Sasha Petraske has built a reputation on serving high-end cocktails at so-called "quiet" bars.
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Facebook/Little Branch

MURRAY HILL — Plans for a "quiet" new bar in Murray Hill have been met with a loud "no."

The promised hush at the proposed spot was not the problem. Instead. Community Board 6 balked at the prospect of another drinking establishment that planned to stay open until 4 a.m.

Bar owner Sasha Petraske pitched the concept of a “quiet” bar last month at a meeting of the board's committee that reviews liquor license requests.

He's well known for his existing establishments Milk & Honey on the Lower East Side and Little Branch in the West Village — famous for strictly enforcing rules that ban noisy, raucous or romantic behavior considered normal in most drinking establishment.

But when the committee demanded that Petraske follow its rules and close by 2 a.m., he refused. The committee declined to give his plan its support.

That resolution was solidified on Wednesday night during a nearly unanimous full board vote. Although binding authority in issuing liquor licenses rests with the State Liquor Authority, the SLA does weigh the community's input heavily.

Petraske had pledged to attend the full board meeting and said he had even prepared handouts to outline his arguments, but he failed to turn up in time to speak.

When reached by email the next day, he said he arrived too late for the public session.

Instead, Petraske now intends to return to the community board to restate his case, he said.

Petraske’s pitch for a new "quiet" bar in a neighborhood notorious for boisterous, post-college haunts was met with some support back in December, when he first appealed to the Community Board 6 committee to open a 640-square-foot, 66-seat lounge on East 33rd Street between Third and Lexington.

At the time, Petraske touted his reputation as a “quiet” bar owner, pledging that the new establishment would fall in line with his bar business philosophy.

Petraske said he has no tolerance for "the whole crowded, standing up, can’t hear yourself talk, can’t hear the music either" kind of bar.

"It’s not the only way to do it," he added, noting that his clientele typically consists of those in their 30s and 40s who have tired of typical bars.

At Petraske's first bar, the reservation-only Milk & Honey which he opened at the age of 27, he said he instituted a series of stringent rules that include a ban on hats and loud, raucous behavior.

According to rules posted on the bar's website, there is no lingering outside the front door, and guests are advised to leave the establishment "briskly and silently."

“People are trying to sleep across the street," the rules state. "Please make all your travel plans and say all farewells before leaving the bar.”

Guests are advised not to bring friends “unless you would leave that person alone in your home,” according to the rules. And when it comes to impromptu trysts with strangers, Petraske added, Milk & Honey is perhaps not the best place.

“Gentlemen will not introduce themselves to ladies,” the rules state. “Ladies, feel free to start a conversation or ask the bartender to introduce you. If a man you don’t know speaks to you, please lift your chin slightly and ignore him.”

The rules are real, Petraske said, and are actively enforced. For loudness, the policy is three strikes and you’re out, he explained. But if a patron refuses to follow a rule on principle, that guest is booted from the bar and cannot return, he added.

A few online reviews even rail against the bar for its strict noise policies, calling them pretentious and unreasonable.

“Everyone is welcome once," Petraske explained. "Not everyone is welcome back."

At Little Branch on Seventh Avenue South, the same rules apply, save for the one about gentlemen approaching ladies. Petraske said the layout of the West Village bar makes policing that particular restriction too difficult.

“This is what I do with my life, is run quiet bars,” Petraske told the Community Board 6 committee back in December. “I really do offer an alternative.”

The East 33rd Street location would have a similar set of regulations, he said, but most of the committee agreed that its 2 a.m. policy should not be relaxed, even for a "quiet" bar.

Although Petraske did not speak in his own defense at Wednesday night’s meeting, board member Nicole Paikoff did.

Paikoff, a member of the board's liquor license committee who said she has visited Petraske's establishments, was hoping to bend the board's 2 a.m. policy for someone she felt would bring a welcome amenity to a neighborhood saturated with troublesome bars.

"My belief is we have to think also that we want to bring very positive things into this," Paikoff said at the meeting. "We can’t say no to everything."

But Carol Schachter, chair of the liquor license committee, disagreed.

Schachter said there have been too many resident complaints in the Murray Hill neighborhood to warrant a new 4 a.m. establishment. 

“We try very hard to walk the line between businesses and the community," Schacter said at the meeting. "In this case, if we did it for one, we can do it for all."

“To set a precedent is a very dangerous thing," she added.

Petraske said he now intends to return to the community board, but said he is not prepared to amend his request for a 4 a.m. closing time.

Mark Thompson, chair of Community Board 6, said that unless Petraske brings some new information to light, the board will likely stick with its existing, negative resolution and pass it along to the State Liquor Authority.

“Anyone can come to a meeting and ask to speak. The resolution, however, was voted on by the full board based on the presentation and residents who objected to certain aspects of the application,” Thompson said.

“He’s definitely welcome to come,” he added, “but I don’t think it’s going to make a difference.”