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BY SERGEI KLEBNIKOV | On a quiet Soho block, concerned neighbors have mobilized to prevent a noisy restaurant from expanding to a nearby bakery and acquiring a liquor license for the new location.
Six months ago, Matt Abramcyk, a previous owner of the infamous Beatrice Inn, and partner Akiva Elstein took over Jean Claude, a small bistro on Sullivan St., and renamed it Navy.
They opened the place as a 51-seat seafood restaurant and bar, in a follow-up of their Smith & Mills restaurant in Tribeca. The new owners made interior changes, sprucing up and modernizing the place.
However, in the spring, Navy opened up its French windows and doors, and blared loud music — immediately aggravating neighbors. In addition to the noise, neighbors were incensed at the increased number of people loitering and smoking outside on the block — especially at night.
“It really got the neighbors angry,” said Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance.
He went on to describe Abramcyk’s involvement with Beatrice Inn, which the Soho activist described as a “very controversial place.”
The W. 10th St. nightspot shut down in 2009, after three years of operation.
One of the people supporting the Sullivan St. neighbors is actually from the West Village, which is unusual, Sweeney noted. The resident used to live across the street from the Beatrice Inn, and having endured that experience, reportedly “doesn’t want it to happen to anyone else,” according to Sweeney.
Meanwhile, a neighbor whose apartment is across from Navy described it as a “nightlife kind of place that is impossible for residents to live with.” The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said the restaurant’s loud music and patrons wake her up every night.
Despite tense relations between Navy and Sullivan St. residents, the restaurant partners are now trying to expand. They are looking to buy an adjacent bakery and cafe, Once Upon a Tart, a neighborhood-friendly and beloved establishment that has been on the street for more than 20 years. Meanwhile, the pastry shop’s longtime owner, Jerome Audureau, is looking to get out.
Audureau has reportedly said he is “exhausted” with keeping the business running, in particular citing the soaring rent, which has ballooned from $2,000 a month when he first opened the business to $20,000 today.
“I cannot deal with expenses anymore — it’s the economy,” he told Downtown Express. The store was his “ultimate dream,” so after being in business for so long, Audureau described it as a “sad situation” that he had to leave.
“Everyone loves the Frenchman Jerome,” said Sweeney, who called the bakery “Soho’s answer to Starbucks.”
But it’s a fact that, as elsewhere Downtown, powerful forces have mom-and-pop stores in their crosshairs.
“We wish commercial establishments weren’t driving out neighborhood businesses, but they are,” said Micki McGee, of the South Village Neighbors.
Audureau was reportedly offered a large sum of money from Navy’s Abramcyk for the space. But the pastry store owner said he could not disclose any financial information, except that he would be using most of the cash to pay off his rent arrears.
“It’s a rescue transaction,” he said, explaining that during the six months the space had been on the market, Abramcyk was the only one to make an offer.
“He’s going to carry on the spirit of the bakery,” Audureau said, “otherwise it’s going to disappear.”
However, Abramcyk needs a liquor license — which would allow him to double revenue by serving drinks, said Audureau, who supported Abramcyk’s application to the State Liquor Authority.
Once Upon a Tart includes two storefronts: a retail bakery to the north, and a cafe to the south. Abramcyk reportedly plans to keep the bakery open until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m., then close the space for private parties. The cafe is planned to open as a separate restaurant, open until midnight, with a bar.
“Everyone loves Jerome, but eventually it’s not going to be the same,” said the resident living across from Navy. “But what can we do?”
The sale of Once Upon a Tart was set for last month. But because of opposition to the liquor license application from neighbors, it has been postponed for several months. Audureau said he wished the community could come to an agreement with Abramcyk.
“They all love me,” he said, “but they need to understand what is crucial right now.”
Sweeney said that losing the bakery would undoubtedly “alter the character of the block.”
“It’s a good strategy [for Navy] to incorporate a beloved neighborhood institution as a Trojan horse to introduce a new party venue,” he said.
On Tues., July 1, 35 local residents attended a meeting hosted by the Soho Alliance on the issue of Abramcyk’s expansion plan. As a grassroots organization, Sweeney said, the group takes its directions from residents.
“The overwhelming opposition was clear” to the expansion plan, he said, so the Soho Alliance took a position on the issue.
After the meeting, the neighbors began gathering information on the previous situation at Beatrice Inn and also prepared a map showing all the restaurants in the Sullivan St. area — “a clear case of liquor oversaturation,” as Sweeney put it.
Beatrice Inn, where Paul Sevigny would deejay, though a small venue, was a huge hot spot for fashionistas and the party crowd. But the location — in the middle of a quiet residential neighborhood, similar to Sullivan St. — proved the club’s undoing, that plus the lack of an adequate fire exit.
A week after the Soho Alliance meeting, on July 8, possibly in response to the growing and organized opposition, Abramcyk reportedly withdrew his liquor-license application at the last minute from the agenda of the Community Board 2 S.L.A. Committee meeting. Nevertheless, “everybody on the street” still showed up at the meeting, according to a resident. The opponents — about three-quarters of the people in the room — stayed to express their frustration with the situation on Sullivan St., even after it was announced that the item had been pulled from the meeting agenda.
At its full board meeting on Thurs., July 24, C.B. 2 voted to recommend that the S.L.A. not modify the existing beer-and-wine license at the 135 Sullivan St. location, until the applicant has appeared before C.B. 2. The C.B. 2 S.L.A. Committee’s resolution, which was approved by the full board, noted that 25 neighbors had shown up at its July 8 meeting to voice their opposition to the application.
Abramcyk reportedly claimed that he wanted to wait a few months to try and show neighbors that he could “rehabilitate Navy,” according to Sweeney.
“All the new liquor licenses will tip the balance of the block from residential to commercial,” the Soho leader stated. “And the Soho Alliance is worried that the sleepy block will turn into another restaurant row.”
A key issue in this case is the 500-foot law, which states that if three or more existing liquor-licensed businesses are within 500 feet of each other, the applicant must prove that granting a new license within this area is in the “public interest.”
“We don’t have a public interest in more licenses,” McGee declared. “It’s not serving the public good. This license is part of an overall hyper-gentrification of our neighborhood that takes away from the voices of neighbors and small businesses.”
Added Sweeney, “Serving good food on its own does not constitute serving the public interest.” He said he thinks Navy faces “an uphill battle.”
“The Sullivan St. neighbors are some of the most organized I’ve worked with,” Sweeney said. “They intend to hire lawyers to fight this.”
According to McGee, however, Navy has reportedly “revised its behavior in past weeks,” even to the point that a future compromise may be possible.
“Past businesses have addressed neighborhood concerns,” she said. “Hopefully, Navy will do the same.”
A spokesperson said Navy owners Abramcyk and Elstein declined to comment for this article.
On another front, S.V.N. is also challenging the legality of the development rights sale from the God’s Love We Deliver site, at Sixth Ave. and Spring St., to the new One Vandam luxury project just to its north.