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Boozy Brunch Spot Pranna May Lose Liquor License for Altering Space: State

By Noah Hurowitz | March 23, 2016 4:12pm
 Pranna Restaurant is located at 79 Madison Ave. in Midtown Manhattan.
Pranna Restaurant is located at 79 Madison Ave. in Midtown Manhattan.
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DNAinfo/Alan Neuhauser

MIDTOWN SOUTH — A Madison Avenue restaurant infamous for its bottomless brunches and club-like atmosphere could lose its liquor license after the State Liquor Authority charged its owners with making unauthorized renovations, according to an SLA spokesman.

The SLA charge comes amid a legal battle between Pranna, a trendy Indian eatery and lounge at 79 Madison Ave., and the local community board, which has been trying to get the restaurant shut down due to the drunken antics of its customers, who've been seen loitering outside and vomiting in the streets.

Pranna's owners Rajiv and Payal Sharma have recently been in the process of dividing up the lounge, to open a second restaurant called Ziya in part of the space, they said.

Pranna was supposed to close on Jan. 5 as part of a legally binding agreement with Community Board 5 to shutter the restaurant in exchange for support for Ziya's liquor license, but when Ziya's opening was delayed, the Sharmas sued to back out of the agreement and got a court order from a judge allowing them to stay open for the time being.

The lounge has long had a rocky relationship with Community Board 5, but it must now contend with the SLA, which has scheduled an April 13 hearing against it for violating the terms of its liquor license by changing its floor plan.

But when reached by phone on Monday, Rajiv Sharma said he wasn't aware that they were doing anything wrong, and called it the latest attempt by CB 5 to drive his restaurant out of the neighborhood.

"This is the first I’m hearing about this so I really can’t comment, but if they bring any charges we will respond, figure out what they need, and comply," he said. "The Community Board is really trying to shut us down. It’s amazing how heavily targeted we are and how unwelcome they’ve made us in this neighborhood." 

CB 5 declined to comment regarding the issues with Pranna.

The restaurant repeatedly made headlines in 2013 and 2014 after videos surfaced showing customers stumbling out of the restaurant, vomiting in the street, and loitering drunkenly about.

The charge from the SLA comes amid a lawsuit brought by Pranna's owners accusing their former lawyer of misleading them into signing the legally binding agreement with Community Board 5, agreeing to close Pranna.

The deal — considered quite unusual given the fact that community boards serve an advisory role and do not have deciding power over liquor licenses — came about due to bad blood between the Sharmas and the board, according to their former lawyer Donald Bernstein.

“It was an unusual agreement, but they had very bad relationship with the community board and with many residents who came to a number of meetings,” Bernstein said. “The agreement was a culmination of 10 months worth of negotiations.”

The saga began when the Sharmas went before Community Board 5’s Public Safety and Quality of Life committee last year asking that the committee support their bid to partition Pranna and spin part of the restaurant off into Ziya, which they promised would be a more traditional restaurant than Pranna’s bar-lounge-restaurant model.

But the board was uncomfortable with allowing the Sharmas to operate two restaurants in the space, and eventually hammered out an agreement in which the Sharmas swore to surrender their liquor license in January and sublet the former Pranna space in exchange for the board's support for Ziya's liquor license.

Pranna has discontinued its bottomless drinks special at brunch, and according to Rajiv Sharma, the negative press caused their business to shrink to 30 percent of its former glory. They want to turn over a new leaf with their new venture and leave behind their bacchanalian ways, he said.

But the plan hit a snag when the Sharmas were unable to rent out the space. They asked for an extension on the deadline and the board's Public Safety and Quality of Life Committee scheduled a hearing for Dec. 23, but on Dec. 21 the Sharmas sued Bernstein and successfully lobbied for the court order indefinitely pushing back the Jan. 5 deadline until Ziya could open, according to court documents.

According to Sharma, members of the committee made it clear to them that they would not get an extension through them.

“We asked them for an extension and they refused,” Sharma said. “We were gracious and said that we would only continue Pranna until we could open Ziya, because we have 40-50 employees and we can’t put them on the street while we transition to Ziya.”