HARLEM — A condo board on Frederick Douglass Boulevard's "restaurant row" is urging Community Board 10 to deny the liquor license application of a popular Washington Heights lounge owner who wants to open a Mexican restaurant and art gallery because they are concerned the spot will become a noisy bar.
Hal Newell, president of the 15-unit Harlem Horizon Condominium on the corner of 115th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, said Jose Morales, owner of Apt. 78 Bar and Lounge at 4447 Broadway in Washington Heights, has not presented plans that show he will operate a restaurant at the location.
"They are representing to the community board that they will be a full-style family restaurant like other successful restaurants on Eighth Avenue such as Lido and 5 and Diamond, but we haven't seen that plan," said Newell, 43, a project manager at an engineering firm. "Our concern is that either their plans aren't well thought out or they are withholding something."
Morales wants to open Made En Harlem Taqueria/Galeria at 2125 Frederick Douglass Blvd. He said the establishment will be a restaurant that also features art for sale from local artists.
Unlike Apt. 78, where Q-Tip and ?uest Love have taken over the turntables, Made En Harlem will simply be a restaurant.
"We are running a full-blown restaurant that offers a bar, not a full-blown bar that offers food," said Morales. "Because of my history in the bar and lounge business in Washington Heights I'm being pigeonholed as to what I want to do. In their minds, I can't operate any other business than a bar or lounge."
CB 10's Economic Development Committee approved Made En Harlem's request for a full liquor license in a unanimous vote last month. A vote before the full board was postponed. The Harlem Horizon Condominium board sent a letter to CB 10 asking it to deny the liquor license application.
The State Liquor Authority strongly considers the opinions of local community boards when approving liquor licenses.
Among the group's concerns are that the venting required to run a full kitchen would be difficult, if not impossible, to install without disturbing building residents.
The condo board also wants the commercial condo unit owner and Morales to sign an agreement with stipulations that the restaurant will close at 11 p.m., will not have live music, dancing or music played by DJs and that any alterations to the building's common areas be approved by the condo board.
The agreement also states that the restaurant should not be "owned or operated by any of the individuals that own or operate Mamajuana's’s Café restaurant," a restaurant on Dyckman Street that has been criticized for noise issues.
Morales said he was offended by the association with Mamajuana, saying that it hinted at discrimination and stereotyping.
"I try not to think like that but my concerns are that I'm being pigeonholed because I'm coming from Washington Heights," Morales said.
Condo owner Rebeca Izquierdo says Morales made the association with Mamajuana himself and that not having the full plans is the issue.
"He still has not addressed basic quality of life concerns," Izquierdo said.
Morales closed another of his establishments, Inwood's La Sala 78 Cafe and Art Gallery, at at 111 Dyckman St. in March after a rent increase. The owner claimed that Morales owed thousands of dollars in back rent.
Morales acknowledges that Apt. 78 had some noise complaints when it first opened but that he was able to work with area residents and improve the sound-proofing and sound equipment. Concerns about venting are issues to be worked out with the landlord, said Morales.
Newell said the board is only concerned with keeping the best possible environment for its unit owners and that the board doesn't necessarily have any objection to a bar or lounge being built at the spot.
He cited the nearby L Bar and Lounge and said they have been good neighbors. But the board should be privy to the plans so that arrangements can be made for things such as noise control.
In just a few years, Frederick Douglass Boulevard has become Harlem's restaurant row with a significant cluster of new establishments between 112th and 125th streets.
The growth is welcome by many in the area who remember when that stretch was once filled with burned-out shells.
But there must be limits, Newell said.
"Many residents are concerned that we will pass the tipping point of having great neighborhood places to being oversaturated. We are supportive of restaurant row's growth but everyone's concern is that we don't become the East Village where the bars and restaurants take over," Newell said.
Community Board 10 has shared that same concern in the past, discussing a proposal to require new restaurants to agree to stop serving liquor at 2 a.m., two hours earlier than the law allows.
Sakita Holley, a publicist and editorial director of the Eat in Harlem blog, said many Harlem residents have appreciated the restaurant boom but there will be similar challenges as the neighborhood continues to evolve.
"The restaurant and commerce boom in Harlem, and on Frederick Douglass Boulevard in particular, have made the area an attractive investment for condo developers," said Holley. "So if there's a way they can come together and find a compromise or proactive solution to the issues raised, that would be ideal."
Morales said he has tried to compromise to no avail.
"The condo board is approaching it in more of a demanding way than a compromising way," said Morales. "I'm a young man taking on a big project and they are not giving me a chance to showcase my vision for this new restaurant."