SOUTH STREET SEAPORT — Thomas Edison used it as a second office, Teddy Roosevelt liked to pop in when he led the city's police department and famous outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid once spent the night there.
South Street's Paris Café has a storied past, and that's what's driving owner Peter O'Connell to reopen the storm-wrecked local favorite as soon as the beginning of May.
The bar on the corner of South Street and Peck Slip was inundated by more than 11 feet of salty floodwaters during Hurricane Sandy, leaving the interior completely destroyed.
But O'Connell, a 65-year-old Irish immigrant who bought the 19th-century bar and restaurant in 2000, said it's Paris Café's special "history and character — a lot of character," that convinced him to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in rebuilding.
O’Connell is hoping for a May 1 reopening date, after a series of extensive repairs and replacements, including the entire electrical system, the moldy interior and all the equipment.
As part of the renovation, O'Connell is also moving the restaurant's bar, which means he's applying for an alteration to his liquor license. He expects to go before Community Board 1 next month for approval.
“It’s a real soup-to-nuts job — we have to reinvest almost $600,000 to fix the damage,” said O'Connell, who, like most of his devastated neighbors did not have flood coverage, and is not getting any money from his insurance company. “It’s a lot — it’s a decision we had to mull for a while and contemplate, but we have a lot of love for this place.”
The decision to come back was especially tough since O’Connell had also spent lots of money to fix his other hurricane-damaged eateries.
O'Connell poured $40,000 into his John Street bar, The Open Door Gastro Pub, which reopened a few weeks after the storm. Plus, he lost thousands of dollars worth of food at his popular Molly’s Irish Pub on Third Avenue and East 23rd Street and neighboring Blue Bell Café, thanks to extended power outages.
"Hurricane Sandy certainly hit us," O'Connell said. "But I come from a farm in Ireland, and when you're a farmer, you just keep working, that's what you must do."