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Gramercy Residents Rally to Keep New Bars at Bay

By Mary Johnson | July 30, 2012 1:35am

GRAMERCY — They said all the right things, but that wasn't enough to save the proprietors of two prospective bars from the collective backlash of dozens of Gramercy residents.

Several entrepreneurs presented preliminary plans for two new bars on Third Avenue at a meeting of the Community Board 6 committee that reviews liquor license requests last Thursday night.

One, at 284 Third Ave. between East 22nd and 23rd streets, promised to be an intimate, 30-seat wine bar with no live music, a 2 a.m. closing time and a beer-and-wine license only.

The other, at 274 Third Ave. between East 21st and 22nd streets, pledged to provide an upscale establishment catering to an older crowd.

But the Gramercy Park Block Association, led by its president, Arlene Harrison, rallied several dozen Gramercy area residents to write letters of protest and to attend Thursday night’s meeting to fight the arrival of any new bar, whether upscale or otherwise, to an area they said is fast becoming a “Meatpacking District East.”

“Nearly every other door on these blocks is yet another bar catering to the endless flow of nightlife-seekers crawling up and down 3rd Ave every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night,” members of the Gramercy Park Block Association wrote in a letter to Community Board 6. 

“The concentration of bars is turning our neighborhood into a new Meatpacking District, which does not serve the neighborhood but instead serves the needs of the itinerant drinking crowd from all over the city.”

Members of Community Board 6 agreed, voting for negative resolutions on both applications.

“[That area] has become a zoo, and we don’t want to add to that,” said Steve Dubnoff, vice chair of the CB6 committee that reviews liquor license requests.

The decisions left the residents in attendance pleased with their collective power of persuasion, but the prospective bar owners left the meeting soured on the entire process.

“They really didn’t take the time to understand what we were going to do,” said James Hendrick, 45, who is eyeing the space at 284 Third Ave. “It’s an unreasonable thing to say it’s the wrong location for it.”

Hendrick, who said he has lived on the block for 17 years, and his business partner, Scott Garry, had proposed a 600-square-foot wine bar that would be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a limited food menu.

Drinks would cost between $6 for a beer and roughly $13 for a glass of organic wine. The closing time would be 2 a.m., with no outside seating and no live DJs — satisfying all the typical sticking points for the community board.

“We feel like this would be a nice little place for people to go,” said Hendrick, who also owns Bull’s Head Tavern and Tap Room No. 307 in the neighborhood. “[It’s] virtually impossible for this to be a sore thumb in the neighborhood. It’s just too small.”

But Sean Brady, chair of the Gramercy Park Block Association's quality of life committee, said there was no way to ensure that this wine bar wouldn’t morph into just another watering hole frequented by the rowdy crowds that troll Third Avenue in the East 20s every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.

“We have no lack of bars of all different varieties,” Brady said at the meeting. “To get another bar serving beer and wine in our neighborhood, we need it like we need a hole in the head.”

Community members reiterated those concerns, assuring the bar owners that their decision was nothing personal.

“This is an OK concept,” said board member Nicole Paikoff. “It’s just the worst spot ever for this.”

Hendrick said he and Garry plan to take their proposal directly to the State Liquor Authority, which has the final say in issuing liquor licenses.

One block down, the location at 274 Third Ave. has come before the Community Board twice in the past year, first as a country/western bar and, when that was turned down, as an Italian restaurant aiming to offer late-night dining.

But the proprietor behind both those concepts never returned to formally present the Italian restaurant idea to the board, and the new owners eyeing the space, John Pirozzi and John Medeiros, said the lease for the space was once again available.

Pirozzi, who has owned Stone Creek Tavern on East 27th Street for seven years, said he has never had issues with the community board and was hoping his strong track record would smooth their path to a liquor license.

But their proposal for a small, “upscale” bar and restaurant also went nowhere on Thursday night.

“I feel like they wouldn’t approve anybody under any circumstances,” Medeiros said as he left the meeting.

But the committee reiterated that it was all about location.

“If you go into certain places, there are no problems,” Dubnoff said. “We are the community board as well as the business committee, so we have to balance that.”