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Chef Tries Again to Get OK for Liquor License From Stubborn Board

By Danielle Tcholakian | September 23, 2015 7:30pm
 Vincent Chirico, chef and owner of Vai on the Upper West Side, wanted to open an eatery in the Meatpacking District.
Vincent Chirico, chef and owner of Vai on the Upper West Side, wanted to open an eatery in the Meatpacking District.
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Vai Restaurant

MEATPACKING DISTRICT — Vincent Chirico has had better months.

That was the Upper West Side chef-restaurateur's response when Community Board 2's liquor licensing committee co-chair Carter Booth asked "how's it going" at the start of Chirico's second attempt to win the committee's approval for a liquor license at a new restaurant at 306 W. 13th St.

Booth acknowledged Chirico's plight.

"Well. Yes," he said. "Not a good question."

Chirico signed a 10-year lease for the West 13th Street spot he fell in love with at first sight back in August, only to discover that his new neighbors were determined to stop a restaurant from moving in.

Local residents showed up at the committee's August meeting and successfully lobbied them not to greenlight Chirico's application for a full liquor license.

He has since tried to get out of his lease, but can't do so without losing $75,000.

At the September meeting, Chirico explained to the community board that he was now applying for a wine and beer license instead of full liquor in the hopes of appeasing his neighbors.

He said he had been on a running email chain with tenants from three nearby buildings, and invited them all to come for dinner to his Upper West Side restaurant, Vai, "so they could understand my operation a little better, and also spend time with him."

No one took him up on the offer, he said.

But they did show up at the meeting, and again urged the committee not to support Chirico's application to the State Liquor Authority.

Chirico also agreed to close at midnight, though insisted he be able to have outdoor seating. He said his menu would change "on a seasonal basis," but the cooking methods would "be dictated by the space." He plans to serve tapas-style Italian called "spuntini."

The neighbors objected to all of it, prompting Booth to point out that Chirico has been unusually willing to compromise.

"It sounds to us [like] he's a very good operator," Booth said. "If he's not here, the question is, who's coming next?"

"We've just seen other people come in [who] will not come down that far," he added. "Our concern is the applicant that doesn't care, and this one does. That's where our dilemma is."

The committee was ultimately divided over what to do with Chirico's application. Booth and another longtime member, Shirley Smith, pointed out that Chirico has been willing to make concession after concession to the locals, while they have refused to budge.

"There's going to be another restaurant there," Smith said. "I'm in favor of this guy being given a shot."

But their colleagues seized on a comment Chirico had made when residents complained of potentially having to smell onions, garlic or roasted peppers.

"There could be worse things to smell than pepper," Chirico had said.

"That was an insensitive comment," committee member Dan Miller said, explaining why he wanted to deny Chirico's application.

"If I'm in my apartment, I don't feel like smelled roasted peppers," agreed member Robin Goldberg. A lengthy conversation about the peppers ensued.

The committee vote was split in Chirico's favor, 4 to 3. The full community board will discuss and vote on the application at Thursday night's full board meeting.

The full board meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. and will be held in the Scholastic building at 557 Broadway in SoHo.