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El Faro Restaurant to Stay Closed Indefinitely, Owner Says

By Andrea Swalec | October 4, 2012 6:45am

MEATPACKING DISTIRCT — The longtime eatery El Faro Restaurant will stay closed indefinitely as its owner tries to raise more than $80,000 to pay city fines and other expenses, he said.

Mark Lugris, the owner of the 822 Greenwich St. Spanish restaurant that was closed Friday after city health inspectors found evidence of mice and other infractions, said Wednesday that his family would need more than $80,000 to pay off fines to the Health Department, eliminate debts to food purveyors and renovate the space inside the landmarked 150-year-old building to help it meet city standards.

Lugris said his restaurant, which opened in 1927, owed about $12,000 in fines to the Health Department before last week's closure.

"We're exploring our options now, but we're limited financially," said Lugris, a Long Island resident whose family bought the restaurant in 1959.

The owners of El Faro owe the city $11,195 in fines from health code violations issued in June 2011, July 2011 and May 2012, records from the city Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings show.

OATH determines the amounts of fines for health violations issued by the Department of Health, restaurants can contest charges of violations through OATH.

Health inspectors visited El Faro, which serves steaks and Spanish classics like tapas and paella, and posted "CLOSED" stickers on the windows Friday night, Lugris said.

He said the restaurant was committed to keeping the kitchen clean but is hobbled by operating in an old space full of "tiny cracks and holes."

"We hose down our kitchen three times a day and try to do whatever we can," Lugris said.

El Faro has received an outpouring of support for the restaurant in response to the closure, with at least 40 calls and 25 emails coming from as far away as Hawaii, Germany and Japan, he noted.

"A lot of people are distraught," Lugris, 50, said. "We have people who have come here for four generations with their families. I am receiving a great amount of kindness from my customers."

For decades, El Faro has served as a kind of "general store" for the neighborhood's remaining longtime residents, Lugris said.

"People have their packages delivered to us. It's like an extension of their house," he said. "We delivered food to some of our elderly [customers] and even brought them milk and bread if they couldn't leave home. It was more than a restaurant."

The Health Department hit El Faro with 57 violation points for "evidence of mice or live mice present," improper handling of food to prevent cross-contamination and improperly maintained plumbing, according to the Health Department's website.

The city immediately closes restaurants and bars with "conditions that may be hazardous to public health," the website says.

Lugris said the possibility of permanently losing the restaurant is devastating.

"I lost my brother two years ago," he said, "and this is about as close as that."