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'The Stand' Restaurant and Comedy Club Opens in Gramercy

By Mary Johnson | September 13, 2012 12:45pm

GRAMERCY — What was once an empty storefront with a vague, handwritten sign in the window promising to be the “future home of something funny,” has finally opened as a brand new comedy club on Third Avenue near East 20th Street.

The Stand, which replaces the once-troubled nightclub Truffle, is celebrating its grand opening — some nine months in the making — with a sneak preview weekend beginning Thursday.

Comedian Judah Friedlander of “30 Rock” will be the headlining act, said Paul Italia, 37, who owns The Stand along with his brother, Cris, 33, and two other partners.

All are welcome, but those who live in the surrounding neighborhood will get in free of charge all weekend long.

“This is a great spot in a neighborhood that’s lacking a lot of things in terms of entertainment,” said Paul.

Excitement has been building since Cris Italia placed that handwritten sign in the window back in December, after members of Community Board 6 passed a resolution in favor of granting the space a liquor license.

Board members were leery at first. Bad memories of Truffle, the raucous nightclub that had previously occupied the space, lingered, and the members worried the neighborhood would be plagued by noisy crowds much like they've seen in front of the New York Comedy Club on East 24th Street

But the brothers Italia pledged to be stellar, respectful neighbors, creating a holding area inside the club to control lines piling up on the street and adding a doorman several nights a week to keep anyone from causing a disturbance on the street.

“Everything that we talked about and promised, we’re delivering,” said Paul Italia, who recently moved to the Gramercy area. “I know I’m not going to be the problem in this neighborhood.”

The comedy club doesn’t host DJs or allow dancing and doubles as a full-service restaurant, with a menu of what Paul calls “elevated comfort food.”

Dishes include fried shrimp crusted in crumbled cheddar cheese popcorn, and a thin-crust pizza with sliced, pan-seared duck breast, plum sauce, cilantro and goat cheese.

The Stand also partnered with bartenders from Minetta Tavern in Greenwich Village to create a cocktail program for the comedy club, with drinks made from local botanical Brooklyn gin, fresh-squeezed juices and syrups made from scratch, Paul said.

Still, the owners expect the club’s real allure to be the comedy.

The Italia brothers submerged themselves into the world of comedy with Cringe Humor, a blog that morphed into an event production company and talent management agency.

Cringe Humor became known for a specific brand of comedy that was raw, risqué and a bit crass. They worked often with Colin Quinn, Louis CK and Dane Cook, among others, Paul Italia said.

“We feel that a lot of comedians have come up with us,” Paul Italia continued. “We’re going to get those guys to perform here on a regular basis.”

The brothers said they’ve already been contacted by several big-name comics who have expressed an interest in swinging by the club, but they declined to name names.

“You never know who’s going to stop in every night,” Cris Italia said.

The space is small, with room for up to 85 guests and not a single bad seat in the house, Paul said.

The brothers used 200-year-old reclaimed wood to help soundproof the space and created a logo that pays homage to one of their friends, the comedian Mike DeStefano, who died in 2011 and is now depicted in black and white on The Stand signage.

“We were working with him very, very closely on producing his one-man show,” Paul said. “That’s his image on the logo.”

“He was very much a part of New York comedy,” Cris added.

The Stand’s sneak preview weekend is free for Gramercy residents. For those who live outside the neighborhood, tickets are available online for $10 to $15 at laughstub.com.