HELL’S KITCHEN — A longtime Northern Italian restaurant on Ninth Avenue served its last meal this weekend amid a legal battle with its landlord that forced the eatery to shutter, its owner said.
Bello Restaurant at 863 Ninth Ave., at the corner of West 56th Street, closed after dinner on Saturday, co-owner Luis Pelaez said last week.
The eatery, which opened in 1985, has been embroiled in a legal dispute with its landlord for several years, records show.
“It’s basically a lease issue,” said Pelaez, who purchased the restaurant from its original operators in 2007. “We’ve been in litigation for a couple years and it just financially drained us — we had to close our doors.”
The restaurant filed a lawsuit against landlord 56 Scarlett Associates LLC — an Orin Management affiliate — in Manhattan Supreme Court in October 2015, asking the court to keep the building owner from terminating its lease, records show.
The landlord had asked Bello to vacate the space by Sept. 18, 2015, because it was “out of compliance with certain rules and regulations regarding places of public assembly,” the suit says.
Bello, however, needed the landlord’s written consent to carry out the necessary alterations, which the landlord put off by ignoring the eatery’s requests or asking for documents it had already provided, the suit claims.
The restaurant fell out of compliance when a New York law regarding public assembly changed in 2008, but it only became aware of this in 2010, court records show.
In a November 2015 filing responding to Bello’s suit, the landlord — which purchased the building in 2010 — said Bello’s owners were operating out of the space “without a place of assembly permit” and without complying with laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Bello hadn’t provided proper plans and did “not actually want to perform the necessary alterations needed to bring the premises into compliance,” the filing states.
Pelaez said he couldn’t comment on the details of the suit, as the litigation is ongoing, but maintained the closure was “symbolic of an ongoing trend in Manhattan, where mom-and-pop and old, established places cannot afford to live anymore.”
“Places can’t afford to survive, and are being squeezed out for the corporate leases that are taking over Manhattan,” he said. “It’s becoming an urban strip mall and it’s losing its flavor.”
56 Scarlett Associates didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Friday, and its attorney declined to comment on the suit.
Speaking about the restaurant on Friday, Pelaez called it an “old-school joint.”
“It’s a heartbreaking thing, but I’ve been proud to be the owner, because we’ve been there for a while and we’ve had good customers," he said.
When some of the Bello’s longtime patrons learned of the impending closure, they “didn’t take it well,” he said.
“We’ve had customers that have been going there since the beginning, and they were actually in tears,” he said. “It’s been a staple in the neighborhood since 1985.”