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Upscale Restaurant Serving Puerto Rican Cuisine to Replace Uptown Social

By Lindsay Armstrong | April 10, 2015 10:08am | Updated on April 10, 2015 6:16pm
 This will be the fourth location of Don Coqui in the New York area.
This will be the fourth location of Don Coqui in the New York area.
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DNAinfo/Lindsay Armstrong

INWOOD — An upscale restaurant serving Puerto Rican food will replace an Uptown sports bar with a troubled history, the owners said.

Don Coqui, which has locations in City Island, New Rochelle and White Plains, will open a fourth restaurant and lounge at 186 Dyckman St.

The site was once home to Uptown Social, which was shut down at least three times in 2014 for selling alcohol to minors and failing to pay worker’s compensation insurance.

Don Coqui, the latest project for New York restaurateur, Jimmy Rodriguez Jr., serves traditional Puerto Rican fare, including pernil, braised oxtail and arroz con pollo. It also offers live entertainment such as DJs, salsa bands and dancing.

The latter activities raised questions at Wednesday’s meeting of Community Board 12’s licensing committee, which heard Don Coqui’s application for an on-premise liquor license.

“I think there are concerns because some people see Don Coqui as a chain of clubs and we see it coming into the neighborhood,” said Aldemar Díaz, chair of Community Board 12’s licensing committee.

Ariel Ferreira, a representative for Don Coqui, told the committee that the Dyckman Street location would be more focused on the restaurant side of the business, in part because the site is much smaller than Don Coqui’s other locations.

The plan is to seat 80 people at the Inwood location, which will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 a.m. seven days a week, Ferreira said. Rodriguez, who also attended the meeting, said he hopes to offer live music during brunch and karaoke once a week.

“We’re also entirely altering the sound system from one that was appropriate for a club to one appropriate for a restaurant,” said Ferreira, who was aware of frequent noise complaints related to Uptown Social.

“What Uptown Social had was two monster speakers, which blast you,” Rodriguez added. “It’s unheard of for what we do. People don’t want to eat in a place like that.”

Rodriguez agreed to the stipulation that he would not apply for a cabaret license, which is the permit that allows for dancing and certain types of live music.

Committee member Martin Restituyo also asked about the owner’s possible plans to expand into the vacant Duane Reade next door. Rodriguez said he had no designs on the space.

“We’re not interested,” he said. “We want to build 10 restaurants, not one giant one.”

The committee unanimously approved the application and it will be presented to the full board on April 28.

Rodriguez and his family have been behind several other successful ventures including Sofrito in Midtown East and Jimmy’s Bronx Café, which was visited by famous patrons including Derek Jeter, Tito Puente and Fidel Castro.

Rodriguez closed Jimmy’s Bronx Café in 2003 after a decade in business and sold his stake in Sofrito in 2008, according to news reports. He returned to the restaurant scene in 2009 when he and his daughters opened the first Don Coqui in New Rochelle.

A fourth Don Coqui in Astoria is under different ownership, according to Rodriguez and SLA records.

The space at 186 Dyckman St., is currently undergoing minor renovations, Ferreira said. The owners hope to open in about six weeks.

“This is a family legacy,” said Ferreira of Don Coqui. “They take it very seriously and they want to share that with other people.”