Volume 81, Number 2 | June 9 - 15, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Locking horns over a restaurant at a former mechanical-bull bar

By Lesley Sussman

The roughly 100 residents at Community Board 3’s May 24 full board meeting got an earful when the now-closed Mason Dixon restaurant at 133 Essex St. came up for discussion.

The Southern-style bar and restaurant — the only one with a mechanical bull on the Lower East Side — was recently purchased by Matt Levine, who sold his exclusive bar and club, The Eldridge, to take over the space.

Levine and his partner, Michael Shah, plan to operate a still-unnamed “new American restaurant” at that location and are currently seeking a liquor license for the new establishment.

The board voted 31-to-1 with one abstention to approve Levine’s proposal to take over the barbecue and fake bull-riding establishment, which, last month, was shuttered by the Police Department for two weekends because of various violations related to underage drinking and excessive noise.

Rob Shamlian, former owner of the bar and eatery, however, said he closed the establishment, in part, because of his treatment by the Police Department but also “because it’s being sold and I didn’t want to jeopardize the license.”

Shamlian also claimed that he and his wife, Emily, both of whom attended the three-hour board meeting, have become the target of a “smear” campaign by condo board members in addition to being “harassed” by the Police Department’s Seventh Precinct.

At one point during the discussion, bar operator and former C.B. 3 Chairperson David McWater rose to his feet and got into an angry confrontation with condo board president Wesley Gaus.

McWater demanded to know whether Gaus or any of the other condo members who attended the meeting bought their apartments knowing that there was going to be a bar featuring a mechanical bull on the building’s ground floor.

Gaus answered, “No,” and asked why McWater was acting so aggressively toward him. The board member replied that he was mad both over the way the Seventh Precinct had “unfairly” targeted Mason Dixon as part of a “Lower East Side nightlife crackdown,” and also by the attempts of Gaus and other condo members to “run him [Shamlian] out of business.”

At the meeting, several condo owners who live above Mason Dixon — and who are currently suing Shamlian — told board members they remain strongly opposed to any new establishment that would remain open until 4 a.m.

They said late-night noise was something they would not tolerate, no matter who took over the space. Several condo residents also said they feared Levine’s proposed eatery would be mainly a bar.

Gaus told board members his wife recently had a new baby and that until Mason Dixon was closed, both the baby and noise from the establishment “kept us awake all night. We’re not going to let that happen again, for us or other residents, either,” he said, referring to the bar noise.

Although the board approved Levine’s proposal to take over the contentious spot, it’s up to the State Liquor Authority to decide whether or not to issue the new restaurant a liquor license.

Levine told board members that he would work hard to make sure the new restaurant has proper noise control.

“What we want to do is run a great restaurant with strong culinary influences from the Lower East Side’s blend of cultures,” he said.

He opposed a last-minute amendment introduced by C.B. 3 member David Crane that would have required the new restaurant to close at 2 a.m seven days a week. Levine told the board he was unwilling to do so because it would mean “limiting the asset” he was purchasing from Shamlian.

But he did agree to restrict his hours of operation from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., Sunday through Wednesday. Levine’s application would have been denied by the full board unless he conformed to these hours and several other stipulations, among them that he maintain a full-service kitchen serving food up to one hour before closing.

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