Volume 19 • Issue 18 | September 15 - 21, 2006

Neighbors try to bounce Buster’s from Tribeca

By Ronda Kaysen

Buster’s Garage might have been the bar of choice for local Steelers fans, but Tribeca residents have a different opinion of the recently defunct watering hole — and may stop it from ever returning to their neighborhood.

“This is the wrong, wrong business for this neighborhood,” said an angry Tribeca resident at a recent Community Board 1 committee meeting to consider a liquor license for Buster’s Garage, which hopes to move around the corner from its previous home at 180 W. Broadway to 24 Leonard St. Scores of residents turned out to oppose the application, squeezing into the small meeting room and pouring out into the hallway.

When the sports bar opened in 2003, it quickly became a favorite of Pittsburgh Steelers fans. In a neighborhood known more for celebrity eateries like Nobu and Montrachet, Buster’s Garage was beloved for its cheap beer and burgers. In 2005, the Village Voice rated it the “best place to fix your NASCAR jones” and in 2004, the New York Daily News listed it as one of the best sports bars in the city.

“We do so much business with the Tribeca blue collar community,” Buster’s general manager Eric Ness told Downtown Express after the meeting. “The reason we opened was because there’s nowhere around here where you can get a cheap beer and a burger — not everyone can afford Nobu every night.”

But not everyone adored the local hangout with its long happy hour lines and ample outdoor seating area. When Buster’s closed on Aug. 14 to make way for a new residential condo on W. Broadway, many nearby residents breathed a collective sigh of relief.

“It’s the noise, it’s the drunken people that’s the problem,” C.B. 1 Tribeca Committee chairperson Richard Landman said at the Sept. 7 meeting. “People get drunk and go ballistic. Buster’s being a bar mostly open to the street has not gotten the love of the people.”

But after two failed attempts to move to a new location — including a plan to move to Carmine St. that was blocked by residents there — the owners opted to stay in North Tribeca. Construction recently began in the ground floor of a four-story parking garage on Leonard St., directly behind the old Buster’s site. The Provenzano family owns Buster’s and the garage the bar plans to move to, Louis Provenzano, Inc. The family also owns the 180 W. Broadway property, which it leased to developer Gregg Rechler of R Squared to build the 13-story condo.

Residents worry that moving the entrance from a wide thoroughfare like W. Broadway to a narrow side street will create excessive noise and congestion on the block, which has become more residential.

“This is going to be a disaster for the block,” said C.B. 1 member Peter Braus at the meeting.

The meeting was at times strident and heated as residents shouted at Provenzano representatives.

“I want you to make money — that’s the American way — but I don’t want it to be a sports bar,” Kristopher Brown, president of the Juilliard Building condo board at 18 Leonard St., told Buster’s representatives. Brown, the father of two small children, moved to the neighborhood in 2000 and worries the noise and crowds will keep his children awake.

Tensions reached a fevered pitched the following morning when Brown’s wife went to the Provenzano garage to retrieve her car and was told she was no longer welcome there. Word quickly spread through the Juilliard building that all residents would lose their coveted parking spaces as retribution.

The owners insist the design of the Leonard St. location takes into consideration the narrow street and the residential neighborhood. The new 6,000 sq. ft. Buster’s would be a restaurant and a bar, with 20 tables and a full kitchen on the ground floor of the garage building. Unlike the old Buster’s that had an outdoor patio where many guests gathered, the new Buster’s will have no outdoor seating — only a rear garden for smokers to step outside for a cigarette — and two sets of doors in the front to limit sound. Buster’s has never had a liquor license violation in the three years it has been in business.

Tribeca is a rapidly changing neighborhood. Dubbed the fastest growing residential neighborhood in the city, new condos are cropping up at a rapid-fire rate. Despite the influx of new residents, it is still a commercial and manufacturing zone. “People moved into a commercial zone and now they expect the commercial business to leave,” said David Ironman, a lawyer for Buster’s. “This is an unfair way to do things.”

The Tribeca committee voted overwhelmingly to reject the application. The full board will vote on the advisory resolution later this month. The State Liquor Authority, however, ultimately decides the fate of liquor license applications.

“That would be crazy! We try to get customers, not lose customers.” Robert Pharaoh, manager of the garage told Downtown Express last week. Several monthly parkers had rushed down to the garage that morning fearing they too had lost their spots. Pharaoh eventually told the doorman at Julliard that no other residents had been evicted. “It was a personal dispute between the owner and one person,” he said.

Ness was pessimistic about Buster’s future. The S.L.A. “is going to listen to the community board nine times out of 10,” he said. “Especially in this climate, they’re under a microscope.” The S.L.A. recently put a moratorium on issuing new liquor licenses for bars and cabarets. Buster’s would be exempt from the moratorium, because it is also a restaurant.


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