Volume 76, Number 3 | June 7 - 13 2006

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

E.U. restaurant on E. Fourth St. operated for a month without a license to serve any alcohol, but has been closed for the last three weeks.

Gastropub is hungry for a beer and wine license

By Lincoln Anderson

Back in the 1980s,, Bob Giraldi directed the music video for Pat Benatar’s “Love Is a Battlefield.” Today, though, the battlefield for Giraldi isn’t love but E. Fourth St., where community opposition is threatening to put his upscale new gastropub, E.U., out of business before it barely has had a chance to open.

Indeed, E. Fourth St. neighbors, backed up by Community Board 3, have been telling Giraldi — who also directed the video for Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” — to, well, beat it. The opponents say the block already has more than enough bars and restaurants and that E.U. — whose anticipated opening was creating a buzz on restaurant blogs — would be a major draw, attracting traffic and causing noise.

So far, the opposition has been winning the battle.

In early March, the State Liquor Authority denied a full liquor license for E.U., at 235 E. Fourth St., just west of Avenue B. In its justification, the S.L.A. noted the location is within 500 feet of three or more existing liquor-licensed premises, as well as the opposition of local residents and Community Board 3. “Oversaturation of licensed liquor establishments can adversely impact on local communities,” the S.L.A. stated. The S.L.A. determined granting the license would not be in the “public interest,” which is required when three other licensed premises are within 500 feet of the applicant’s location.

Last month, Giraldi tried opening with a bring-your-own-bottle policy. But this lasted just a day after the S.L.A. notified him that this was illegal without obtaining a license. (According to Bill Crowley, an S.L.A. spokesperson, only restaurants with 20 or fewer seats can operate B.Y.O.B. without a license; E.U. has more than 80 seats.)

Nevertheless, for a month, E.U. stayed open, and foodies flocked to enjoy its European-based cuisine, such as beef cheek with sauerbraten, branzino with paella and tea-marinated lamb chops with mint. E.U. was open all day and also served breakfast and lunch. The menu, based on what Giraldi calls “the best dishes of the mother countries of Europe,” has been cooked up by chef Gwenael Le Pape, a native of Brittany, formerly of Les Halles restaurant.

But without alcohol, it wasn’t profitable to stay open, and three weeks ago Giraldi closed E.U. — only temporarily, he hopes. Meanwhile, the tables remain set, complete with disposable brown-paper menus, and plates and wine glasses are neatly stored in their racks.

Giraldi has applied for a beer and wine license — a lower-level license — and expects a decision from the S.L.A. in as soon as a month. However, after the S.L.A. rejected E.U.’s application for a full liquor license in March, Susan Stetzer, Community Board 3 district manager, said the opponents would also oppose the beer and wine license.

“I don’t see anything different about it,” Stetzer said at the time.

Giraldi, however — who is reported to have put $1 million into fixing up the space — still hopes he can reach a deal with neighbors. He’s offered to agree to stipulations on the place’s operating hours and to promise that, if he ever sells E.U., he won’t sell to an operator who wants to turn it into a nightclub by getting a cabaret license to allow dancing.

Giraldi basically feels E.U. has been unfairly portrayed as a rowdy bar, when, in fact, it’s just a tasteful restaurant — like the other 11 restaurants he owns. If he doesn’t get the beer and wine license, he says he’ll probably have to sell.

The E. Fourth St. A-B Block Association had been scheduled to meet last Friday to decide whether they want to make any agreement with Giraldi or will again oppose him vigorously at the S.L.A. However, Ellyce de Paolo, of the block association, said they held off on the meeting and instead on Friday morning asked E.U. to meet with them. Giraldi subsequently agreed to a sitdown later this week. It would be the first meeting between the parties, each side claiming the other has declined prior invitations. Meanwhile, asked if C.B. 3 now still intends to fight the beer and wine license application, Stetzer is saying C.B. 3 will represent the community — in this case, the block association.

‘Community decides’

“The community board has been discussing it, and the Fourth St. Block Association is meeting…to decide what they want to do,” said Stetzer. “The community board will be driven by what the community does.”

In September 2004, E. Fourth St. between Avenues A and B was designated a moratorium area for new liquor licenses, meaning C.B. 3 issues an automatic denial for applications for both full liquor licenses and beer and wine licenses on the block. However, if the block association now decides to work with Giraldi, then C.B. 3 — while still issuing its automatic “No” recommendation under the moratorium — wouldn’t fight the application at the S.L.A., Stetzer said.

Last Wednesday, Giraldi opened E.U. for an interview with The Villager during which he stated his case about why the gastropub is a restaurant, not a bar — but why he needs a beer and wine license to stay afloat.

Formerly a church, the space has walls of exposed brick, tasteful lighting and furnishings and rustic wood planking on the ceiling. Giraldi stressed it will be a family restaurant, drawing its clientele from the neighborhood.

“The perplexing thing to me, is that I don’t disagree with the initial protest,” said Giraldi. “I understand that this is a totally oversaturated part of the city with nightlife, cabarets, bars, clubs — mostly bars…. I picked this place to open a restaurant because it’s a neighborhood that doesn’t have a lot of good restaurants, fine, qualityish restaurants. This is why I came here, not because there was a lot of prospective young people walking around at night.” Rather, he said, his clientele is “adults, couples.”

“Everyone knows, that in the restaurant business, you can’t make a living with good food if you don’t serve wine and beer — not liquor — but you need wine and beer,” Giraldi said.

Giraldi has a petition with 1,000 signatures in support of E.U., all of which he says are from East Villagers, 20 percent of them from E. Fourth St.

He says he understands the initial opposition to E.U., but feels it was unfounded.

E.U. as a symbol

“This block association, this community board has lost a lot of battles before,” Giraldi said. “They don’t want to lose another battle. This has become a symbol for them. Do I think that they now know that they characterized this incorrectly in the beginning? Yes. My wife, Patti Greaney, who has taken on this burden with me, and I are law-abiding restaurateurs who run legitimate restaurants. This is not about nightlife. We’re not going to be open late when the traffic problems start and the issues of noise and rowdiness in the street start.

“I am a co-owner of 12 legitimate restaurants — not clubs, not bars — legitimate food establishments with legitimate, highly praised and acclaimed chefs,” he stressed. “That’s what turns me on: good food, good wine, good talk. And my places are usually closed well before what you would call ‘nightlife,’ and especially on weekends.”

Giraldi says his Gigino Trattoria in Tribeca, for example — unlike its more upscale neighbors, Nobu and Bouley — doesn’t cater to the black-car crowd from Uptown, but is a “neighborhood restaurant.”

His other restaurants include August, Diablo Royale, BREADTribeca, Jean Georges at Columbus Circle, Vong, Mercer Kitchen and Prime in Las Vegas. None of his restaurants have ever received any complaints from neighbors, he said.

“If people were to look at my history, they’d see that nightlife is not what I do,” Giraldi said. “I know nothing about bars — honestly and truly, don’t know how to run them.”

Giraldi is still upset about a petition that opponents circulated that claimed E.U. would be a “loud, raucous late-night bar” with an outdoor garden and sidewalk café, serving drinks late into the night, possibly with live music and large-screen TV’s showing live sports events. However, Di Paolo said, at the beginning, all that neighbors knew about E.U. was what was hyped on restaurant blogs. An April 11, 2005, item on The Strong Buzz, for example, described E.U. as “ ‘an amalgam of pub culture’ — part pub, part trattoria and part cafe…. The restaurant will have…an outdoor bar pouring pints and cocktails.” There were four versions of the petition, Di Paolo said, noting that the petitions “evolved” over time, as neighbors learned more about the place.

In a separate interview, David Rabin, a partner in Lotus nightclub in the Meatpacking District and president of the New York Nightlife Association, said if anyone is a pure restaurateur and not a club owner, it’s Giraldi. In fact, Rabin and Giraldi had been thinking of partnering on a place, but Giraldi backed out, not comfortable with the idea of running a club, according to both Rabin and Giraldi.

Giraldi says he’s willing to make a stipulation that he won’t turn E.U. into a bar.

As for the term “gastropub,” Giraldi said it’s based on the English model. “Gastro,” he said, represents a “scientific approach to food, while “pub” means, well, “public,” he said.

Traffic’s an issue

But neighbors fighting E.U. say, even if it is primarily a restaurant, they’re still concerned it will bring an influx of traffic to an area — lower Avenue B — that’s already gridlocked on Friday and Saturday nights.

But Giraldi countered, “There is no traffic issue here. If there’s a traffic issue on B — and I have not seen one that I would call a traffic issue, I know what traffic is — it doesn’t happen in the hours that we’re open. I close this kitchen at 11, 11:30, 12, the latest. We’re out of here, these doors are closed by 12:30, 1 o’clock. We have not seen a traffic problem during the time we’re open.”

But Alexandra Militano, chairperson of Community Board 3’s State Liquor Authority Committee, said the traffic is clearly an issue.

“Have you been on Avenue B on any weekend night?” she asked. “This will be another 100 people, and more people will be waiting for seats. I think this has become a destination location for people who live outside the neighborhood.”

However, Militano said, “If the block association decides they want to negotiate a deal with the applicant on how they’re going to operate their business, who am I to say?” adding, “They appear to be a restaurant.”

As for noise from E.U., Giraldi and Greaney — who arrived partway through the interview — say there wasn’t any during the month the restaurant was open.

“If you can find someone who said there was noise, I’ll give you $1,000,” Greaney said.

Stetzer, Militano and Di Paolo are concerned about a white counter in E.U. positioned near two large windows that swing open, feeling it will contribute to street noise.

But Giraldi and chef Le Pape explained that this counter is called a garde-manger — a cold-foods area, for a raw bar, sandwiches and salads.

Giraldi didn’t win any points with block association members, though, when, while E.U. was open, he washed the front of its building with lights, which illuminated Di Paolo’s apartment — two buildings away — at night.
“They washed the two buildings across the street [with light] also,” Di Paolo said. “It wasn’t just his building.”

Giraldi, who produced the movie “Dinner Rush” with Danny Aiello in 2000, says he knows from lighting angles from his directing work, and if Di Paolo would let him into her apartment, he’d see how he could fix the problem with some shading.

At any rate, after Di Paolo complained, E.U. turned off the lights, and Giraldi says he will get rid of them completely, if that solves the problem.

Di Paolo said, lighting issues aside, the bottom line is that the street simply has enough liquor-licensed premises.

“It’s nothing personal,” Di Paolo said. “If I thought a cozy, but expensive restaurant wasn’t going to bring more noise and traffic — but it’s abominable already.”

She doubted E.U. would cater to the neighborhood, since its price range is high for most locals.

“Not until a decade from now, when the median income down here will be $80,000,” she said. “Maybe in Tribeca or the Upper East Side — but this is a neighborhood of working-class people.”

Galil Gertner, 26, manager at In Vino wine bar down the block, said he felt bad for E.U. because of all the money they’ve sunk into the place.

“I think he’s been catering to the people who have come in here recently, rather than to what the East Village used to be known for — kind of rock and roll,” Gertner said. Gertner isn’t one of the new people, but a former resident: Rising rents led him to relocate to Long Island City.

Stetzer of C.B. 3 noted that the block’s residents voted for the moratorium in September 2004 — when there were already seven liquor-licenses premises on the block — well before E.U. came on the scene. Stetzer said Giraldi’s first liquor-license lawyer, Frank Palillo, was well aware of the moratorium before E.U. started applying for a liquor license.

“No one is saying they’re doing anything bad. No one is out to get them,” Stetzer said. “But it’s impossible: Nobody can have hundreds of people going in at night and there not being noise.”

Meanwhile, Le Pape — who was at the restaurant last Wednesday checking on the refrigeration — is itching to get back in E.U.’s kitchen. His favorite dish on the menu, he said, is the beef cheek. He showed with his cupped hands how it shrinks down to a tasty morsel when cooked, then made the European gesture — an air kiss of his fingertips — for delicious.

When E.U. was briefly open, the garde-manger that opponents are so suspicious of sported a “beautiful seafood tower,” Le Pape said, “three times as big as they make at Balthazar.”

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