Volume 19 • Issue 17 | September 8 - 14, 2006

Restaurateur chatty, hotelier mum at Tribeca’s coming Hilton

By Ronda Kaysen

A new French bistro is opening in Tribeca this December, but it’s not just any old French bistro, it’s a French-British pub fusion bistro called Bistrobeca.

“Everyone is doing French bistro, been there done that,” said Jeremy Casilli, the 27-year-old co-owner of the eatery opening in a new hotel at 6 York St.—a little sliver of a street just south of Canal and Sixth Ave. “I really love English pub fare, so I thought ‘mix French bistro with pub fare.’”

The result? A 166-seat restaurant with 30-ft. ceilings, sweeping windows, black and white checkered floors, and display cases bursting with bread and cheese and seafood.

“When you walk in, the place will be overflowing with food,” said Casilli, sitting in Mocca Lounge, a Reade St. café, on a recent summer morning.

Bistrobeca, its name a hybrid of bistro and Tribeca, will be housed in the ground floor of a six-story Hilton Garden Inn, which will open simultaneously with the restaurant. Gary Wisinski, C.O.O. of McSam Hotel Group, the developer, was reluctant to describe what the Gene Kaufman-designed hotel will look like, noting only that it has 151 rooms and a brick façade. “We’re not required to provide [a rendering], hence we don’t have one,” he told Downtown Express.

McSam, led by developer Sam Chang, is known for building small, no-frills hotels in heavily trafficked neighborhoods, including a South Street Seaport hotel, also designed by Kaufman, that evoked the ire of the Landmarks Preservation Commission when the actual building bore little resemblance to the plans approved by the commission. The hotel at 6 York St. is already under construction, and its simple and unadorned façade is apparently in keeping with the McSam model.

“The hotel’s not the most trendy hotel. We’re trying to segregate ourselves as much as possible from it,” said Casilli, who launched Lobby, a trendy Midtown club, in 2002. “We have our own identity.”

With dark features and a round, boyishly handsome face, Casilli bears a striking resemblance to the actor Colin Farrell and exudes a laidback confidence. But at 27, the Rockland County-raised restaurateur is positioning himself as a serious player on the New York City restaurant scene.

Casilli got his stripes working at the Tribeca Grand when the hotel first opened. By the time he was 22, he opened Lobby in Midtown with Sergio Acappella, owner of Tribeca’s Acappella restaurant on Hudson St. In six months, he paid back the nearly $1 million it took to launch Lobby.

“I wanted to put my knowledge in my own pocket,” he said. He also plans
to open a new gourmet take-out spot in Times Square.

For Bistrobeca, Casilli partnered up with Shaul Natan who also owns Thalia in the Theater District and 24 Prince in Soho. The bistro will cater to a lunch and evening crowd, with the last seating at midnight.

Not everyone is thrilled to have a new bistro in the neighborhood, however. Several residents contested Casilli’s liquor license application when it went before the community board, insisting the neighborhood was saturated with bars and restaurants and worrying Bistrobeca would be more of late night party house than a fine dining establishment.

“This area has become nightclub central,” said Paul Yeager, a condo board member at the American Thread Building on West Broadway, at a recent Community Board 1 meeting. “This place at 4 a.m. is a total mess.”

Several board members also resisted the license, fearing it would set a precedent for the neighborhood. “We are not Times Square, we do not immediately believe that all hotels should serve liquor,” said public member Jean Grillo. “If we start allowing liquor licenses in small, boutique hotels, we’re going to start having people coming down here and drinking at 4 a.m.”

Casilli insists his restaurant will close at 2 a.m., not 4 a.m., when all city bars and restaurants must stop serving liquor. After several speakers objected to his restaurant, Casilli asked to speak at the July 25 meeting. Displaying pictures of his restaurant’s interior, he insisted it would have a different façade than the hotel. “It’s not going to be a nightclub, we’re not applying for a cabaret license.”

In the end, his license application was approved by the board, which provides advisory resolutions to the State Liquor Authority, the agency that ultimately issues liquor licenses.

“A lot of people on the community board don’t want restaurants,” Casilli told Downtown Express later. “But look around, there are a lot of good things happening in this neighborhood.”

In order to be noticed in a city of endless eateries, a restaurant must stand out, said Casilli. Lobby got attention in part because of its cotton candy machine and Betsey Johnson uniforms.

Bistrobeca’s gimmick? Food. The restaurant will be lined with showcases of food and servers will prepare steak tartare—and perhaps other dishes—tableside. There will even be a table in the kitchen for diners who want to saddle up beside the chef for a prix fixe menu.

“You can go eat anywhere,” said Casilli. “You have to be personal with your service… a lot of places you go, you knock on the door and no one’s home.”


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