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Wine Bar Idea Hears Few Cheers

Wine Bar Idea Hears Few Cheers

The Wall Street Journal 7/14/2010

By Sumathi Reddy

The deep-pocketed residents of 25 Central Park West are battling against a proposed café and wine bar in their building.

A Community Board vote last week approved a liquor license with numerous stipulations in the landmark art-deco building. But condo dwellers in the Century have hired some of the city’s top land-use attorneys to continue the fight against the proposed Central Park West Café.

“A use that involves a wine bar that has a full liquor license, not just a beer and wine license, and that is open until very late hours is completely inconsistent with the zoned use of this space and of the whole feel of the neighborhood,” said Louis M. Solomon, a board member of the luxury building. “It either needs to change or we continue to object.”

Residents hope to block the café on the grounds that the establishment may be an illegal use in a residential zone. Although the space once housed a Gristedes grocery store, which closed several years ago, residents believe that the zoning variance in place has now expired.

City guidelines themselves are not clear. According to a preliminary review by the Department of Buildings, the Century, which has about 380 units, is zoned residential but an eating and drinking establishment is allowed in certain parts of the building, without obtaining a variance.

A spokeswoman said that since there is no application from the café’s management on file she does not know if the space falls within the area where a restaurant is permitted.

Meanwhile, Gregory Hunt, managing partner of the proposed café, said his lawyer is confident there won’t be a zoning issue.

Mr. Hunt, who owns Amsterdam Billiards in Union Square, will have to apply to the Buildings Department to amend the certificate of occupancy before going to the State Liquor Authority for a license. Although the Community Board vote is not binding, it is considered a more difficult obstacle than the liquor authority.

The residents of 15 Central Park West across the street—one of the toniest addresses in the city—have also voiced opposition to the proposal.

Of particular concern was the closing time of the café, which would occupy about 3,000 square feet and hold 60 people.

Mr. Hunt had originally proposed a 3 a.m. closing time. The final compromise was a 12:30 a.m. closing time on Sunday through Tuesday, and a 1:30 a.m. closing time Wednesday through Saturday. The concession was not enough.

“The residents of 15 and 25 Central Park West are not happy about this,” said Jake Dilemani, an associate at Parkside Group, a lobbying group hired by the board of 25 Central Park West. “They wanted a 12:30 a.m. closing time across the board.”

Other stipulations attached to the Community Board’s approval included that Mr. Hunt never apply for a public assembly, cabaret or sidewalk café permit. He can’t have velvet ropes outside. And a manager on duty must carry a “complaint line” cellphone with a number only distributed to residents.

For Mr. Hunt, the concessions are proof enough that he is not interested in a party-type atmosphere, but a more sophisticated and sedate restaurant catering to the 35 and older crowd. “We want very much to be a good neighbor, I am a neighbor,” noted Mr. Hunt, who lives several blocks away. “There is a small group of residents that I believe are blowing this out of proportion. This is not going to be the end of Western civilization as we know it.” In fact, he says, the very residents opposing the café might become his best customers, eventually.