Volume 74, Number 13 | July 28 - August 03 , 2004

Nightlife operators and residents tackle meaty issues

By Lincoln Anderson

Kristen Artz, Mayor’s Photo Unit
From left to right, Mayor Michael Bloomberg; Stephen Hanson, president of BR Guest Restaurants; and Robert W. Walsh, commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services. Hanson’s new restaurant in the Meat Market, Vento Trattoria, recently received the award for Outstanding Achievement in Preservation & Re-Adaptive Use at the mayor’s 2004 Neighborhood Development Achievement Awards. Hanson and his architects worked closely with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to complete renovations to the facade of the Triangle Building, originally built as a factory in 1849, restoring the historic frieze, metal crown molding and fascia above the first floor, as well as replacing and repairing bricks to match original conditions.
Wrestling with problems, both micro and macro, facing the Meat Market, a group of area residents met with nightclub and restaurant owners last Wednesday to try to find common ground on how to manage the booming area’s growth.

The brainstorming session, held in Ivy Jeanne Brown’s Go Fish Gallery/home in the Triangle Building, included some of the top names in the city’s restaurant and nightlife industry, such as Keith McNally, owner of Pastis; David Rabin, co-owner of Lotus; Stephen Hanson, owner of Vento — the bustling new restaurant in the Triangle building downstairs from Brown’s loft — Florent Morellet, owner of Florent restaurant; and the owners of the new 14-story Hotel Gansevoort.

Jo Hamilton, co-chairperson of Save Gansevoort Market and a member of Community Board 2, led the meeting along with Brown. Hamilton said the key word is “diversity,” in that they don’t want to see the Meat Market become just a nightlife zone, but want it to have some other uses, like the Flower Market, art institutions or an independent movie theater.

“The neighborhood has changed,” said Brown. “It’s not going to change back. What we can try to do is shape it into what we like.”

Chief among residents’ concerns were noise and traffic from the new club scene.

The Hotel Gansevoort contingent suggested “pedestrianization,” closing streets to traffic on nights when the clubs are most heavily used. This idea met with mixed reactions, some saying it might lead to a scene with “5,000 people” milling about “like an outdoor garden,” while Zack Winestine, a Village community activist, said pedestrian malls might work.

However, David Rabin, who is president of the New York Nightlife Association and the Meatpacking District Initiative, a group promoting the area’s new businesses, suggested people were “getting ahead of themselves” and have to realize that nightlife is coming to the Meat Market because it is a manufacturing zone that permits this use.

“This is one of the last M1-5 zones in existence in Manhattan,” Rabin stressed. “Nightlife is flocking here because it has nowhere else to flock. Anybody who is thinking ahead and saying, ‘I don’t want to bother residents,’ is coming here.”

Rabin said noise problems can be addressed with Paid Detail — off-duty police officers hired by the nightspots to patrol outside — as is done in other cities, like Boston and Miami. Legislation authorizing Paid Detail is pending in the City Council. While Councilmember Chris Quinn supports Paid Detail, Community Board 2, he noted disapprovingly, does not. Rabin said the Sixth Precinct needs to assign more officers to patrol the area to control noise, honking and traffic.

Rabin added that the real “800-pound gorilla” is the landlords, who will seek the highest return on their property. “We may end up with Century 21, Wal-Mart, Whole Foods. Be careful what you wish for,” he warned.

Rabin added that the problem isn’t just south of 14th St., but extends into Community Board 4, where there is the Chelsea Maritime and more nightspots on 10th Ave., so Board 2 and Board 4 will need to collaborate on solutions.

Melinda Brown, a resident who lives in the Market in Bombora House, “a living sculpture,” recalled an officer named Gino who formerly patrolled the Market.

“We should have more Ginos back on the street,” she said. “When you gentlemen first arrived, the police were very active in chasing away the transvestites,” she said, referring to the club and restaurant owners.

One resident who said she was a former bartender said the onus is on bartenders to not over-serve customers so that they are not too inebriated when they leave the clubs.

“That’s not the problem,” said another resident. “These young guys go into a deli, buy a six-pack and wolf it down. They’re already blotto when they go into these places.”

George Whipple, the New York 1 social reporter, was blasted for allegedly calling the Meat Market “the neighborhood to get drunk.”

On handling traffic, it was noted that C.B. 2’s Traffic and Transportation Committee had been in contact with the Department of Transportation and that D.O.T. has offered a few suggestions. One is to create three designated taxi stands. Another is to remove some of the cobblestones and add markings at the five-way intersection of Gansevoort Square.

“Ssssss!” several residents hissed vehemently at the mention of defiling the Market’s cobblestones.

Farshad Shahrokhi, an architect who lives in the Triangle Building on the floor above Brown, offered to set up video cameras on buildings to track traffic in the area with time-lapse photography. Another woman said she’d keep an audio record of noise.

The restaurant operators, in particular, said they don’t want the Market scene to grow out of control.

“Florent and I are busier now, but it’s about quality of life,” said McNally. “I wish there was more diversity in this very fragile neighborhood. I feel very hypocritical — because I own a restaurant.”

“My business has never done better,” said Morellet. “The restaurant is packed at 2, 3, 4 o’clock in the morning. But I’ve always been someone who looks at the big picture. I’ve been to Bourbon St. in New Orleans and I’m very afraid of that” happening here.

As to what course of action is now to be taken, the discussion turned to the liquor license application by Buddha Bar, which is hoping to come into the Collier’s Building between 13th and Little W. 12th Sts. However, Brown and Shahrokhi said Buddha Bar is a cool place that they would support.

In the end, because a consensus hadn’t been reached on how to proceed, they agreed they should have another meeting soon.

Also attending the meeting were Kate Seely-Kirk, an aide to Councilmember Quinn, and Gregory Brender, an aide to Assemblymember Deborah Glick.

The following evening, Community Board 2 voted to deny the liquor license application for Buddha Bar as well as the Hotel Gansevoort’s application to add more bars on its roof and to serve alcohol at a planned 160-seat, outdoor cafe. About 10 members of the board — including its business owners’ bloc — voiced support for the Buddha Bar license, noting the planned location is farther from residential areas than the hotel. But there was enough opposition to defeat the license.

At the residents’ meeting with the Meat Market business owners, it had been mentioned that two established places on 14th St. are going out of business, La Petite Abeille and The Village Idiot.

Last Thursday, Roosevelt Ramses, assistant manager of La Petite Abeille, a Belgian restaurant, said they will be leaving in a week, to be replaced by “a lingerie place or something. It’s been rented already. The landlord doesn’t want us here anymore,” he said. “We offered more — he rented it for less.”

The Village Idiot will be closing this weekend. In an interview during which he drained a steady succession of pints of Guinness, each in one under-three-second gulp — he’s a former competitive drinker — Tom McNeil, the bar’s owner, said he’d offered his landlord a 50 percent rent increase but got no response.

A new, upscale comedy club is coming in next door in the large, former Strawberry Fields supermarket space. (Michael Palitz, a partner in the club, said they didn’t know until recently that The Village Idiot was closing and as of now aren’t seeking the space.)

“I had a good run here for 10 years and people had fun,” reflected McNeil, who grew up in the East Village and as a teenager followed Johnny Cash on tour. “I’m going to be looking for another space, either in the East or West Village.”

Formerly located on First Ave., The Village Idiot was the original New York country honky-tonk bar, spawning the likes of Coyote Ugly, Hogs and Heifers, Doc Holliday’s — owned by a former customer of McNeil’s, David McWater, chairperson of Community Board 3 — and Red Rocks West. McNeil also owns Patriot and Yogi’s.

Asked what he thought of the new Meat Market, McNeil said, “I hate it…. Stella McCartney acts like she discovered the place — you’re just moving people out.”

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