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Chumley's Faces New Opposition in Bid to Reopen

By Andrea Swalec | January 31, 2013 7:51am

WEST VILLAGE — The historic watering hole where John Steinbeck and E.E. Cummings raised their glasses is hoping to reopen this year, but new opponents say the restored bar will be too noisy for Bedford Street.

Neighbors of the storied Chumley's — which opened at 86 Bedford St. as a speakeasy in the 1920s — are asking Community Board 2 to reconsider its conditional approval of the bar's new liquor license and require earlier closing hours, according to a petition signed by 28 people and submitted to the board late last week.

Chumley's, petition signers argued, will plague a sleepy strip of the pricey West Village with "drunk and loud tourists/patrons talking and smoking on Bedford and Barrow streets" until the wee hours. They also worried about noise in the bar's courtyard and honking caused by patrons trying to hail cabs.

Richard Keiser, a technology executive who lives in the West Village, urged CB2 at a Jan. 24 meeting to protect peace and quiet for his family and his neighbors.

"We're trying to find a way to…get this place to correspond with the rules in the neighborhood," he said, noting that the four bars on Bedford Street between Morton and Grove streets all close by midnight.

Under conditions agreed upon with CB2 last June, the bar will close at 1 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, keep its windows and doors closed at all times, and employ a doorman inside the bar.

Chumley's was forced to close in April 2007 after part of its building collapsed. In the past six years, the owners have wrangled with city agencies for necessary permits.

Jim Miller, Chumley's operator, assured critics he would run the "quiet" bar in a "responsible manner" and said he wanted to keep the hours the community board previously approved.

"The neighborhood has the right to quiet enjoyment," he said Wednesday. "People have bought homes here and they want to be happy here. I'm not here to bring them any quality-of-life problems."

In addition to asking for earlier closing times, petition signers argued that CB2 inadequately informed West Village residents about the liquor license application.

But Bob Gormley, CB2 district manager, said the board followed its standard procedure of notifying locals about applications by including Chumley's on the board's public monthly agenda and posting fliers on lampposts near the location.

The board has no plan to reconsider its vote or hold another meeting on Chumley's, CB2 representatives said.

Asked if Chumley's is aiming to reopen this year, Miller seemed optimistic.

"I hope so," he said, declining to elaborate on the timing of the long-delayed renovations.

"We're horses at the gate waiting for [Chumley's] to be open," he said, adding that the bar — where the original 1920s booths will be reinstalled — is currently awaiting approval of its latest round of Department of Buildings permits. "We're going to restore it to exactly the look it had."

According to CB2 documents, Chumley's submitted 300 signatures in support of its liquor license application.

The bar's liquor license is currently pending before the State Liquor Authority.