WEST VILLAGE — A group of retired firefighters struggling for more than eight years to reopen a historic West Village watering hole have yet another hurdle to clear.
Chumley's is appearing before Community Board 2's liquor licensing committee on Thursday. This is the third time they’ve had to renew their liquor license while the bar has remained closed for structural renovations after a wall collapsed in 2007.
Over the years, the Chumley’s firefighters have funneled money into the repairs, fought their way through bureaucratic red tape, and faced lawsuits from a group of neighbors who are determined not to let the historic bar, which dates back to the Prohibition Era, re-open at 86 Bedford St.
“I think it’s special enough to try to keep it alive or I wouldn’t be here eight years later trying to get it done,” said Jim Miller, one of the firefighters who took over the bar after decades as a regular. “This is a part of New York that I think is worth putting back.”
The board and the State Liquor Authority have previously approved the license renewal each time Chumley’s has come to them, and the local opponents lost a lawsuit earlier this year attempting to force the SLA to revoke the bar's liquor license.
Miller said he doesn't anticipate Thursday's hearing to be any different from the previous ones.
"Anything they've ever asked us for, we've been compliant immediately," Miller said, highlighting agreements to close earlier, hire additional security and soundproof the space. "We're not a Trojan horse. We really are here to be a compliant, cooperative, good neighbor... to bring back Chumley's in a way everyone can enjoy."
Miller pointed out that New Yorkers are constantly seeing their favorite longtime businesses shutter.
“Every time I look, I go, ‘Oh no, not that place, that was a great little place,’” Miller said. “It’s nice to be on the side of something that we’re trying to put back and that will be there going forward.”
His goal is to “duplicate” Chumley’s, “but in a more responsible manner, because the Village has changed.”
“You have to be cognizant of the fact that people have bought [homes] in the neighborhood, and they have spent a lot of money," he said. "There are new people in the neighborhood.”
Their opponents are currently waiting on a ruling on a suit they brought against the city in an attempt to get Chumley's shut down for good. The location is "grandfathered" as a bar, but that status can be revoked if there's an interruption in its use as a bar for two years.
City lawyers responded in court documents that Chumley's has been out of operation through no fault of its own, and has diligently completed construction ordered by the city. City statutes dictate that the "grandfathered" status can be maintained if its closure is due to city-mandated repairs.
A New York Supreme Court judge is currently deliberating that case.
The Thursday meeting is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. in St. Anthony's Church on Sullivan Street in SoHo.