The Proposed ‘Honey Fitz’ Bar Just Forced Nino’s Pizza Out of Business

Posted on: February 17th, 2016 at 5:00 am by

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Photo: EV Grieve

Bombshell dropped. It appears that Nino’s Pizza has been forced out of business on Avenue A thanks to the collective ownership of Webster Hall and The Late Late. Their new concept – The Honey Fitz – has taken over, and last night was the public application process of same.

The SLA subcommittee of Community Board 3 volunteered more than five hours of its time last night to new neighborhood applicants seeking liquor licenses. Two of the hopefuls stole more than half that time – The Honey Fitz and the four-course complex inside the new Joie de Vivre hotel at 50 Bowery.

Honey Fitz vs. the Community

The Late Late’s James Morrissey pitched the wraparound, three-room bar-restaurant as a concept that doubles as a “co-working” habitat for young professionals (e.g. free Wifi and power, which many places offer btw). The Honey Fritz namesake is an allusion to the Kennedy yacht in the 1960s, and the family’s relationship with Ireland at that time. It would offer grab-and-go service early morning, a “meet up” spot in the afternoons, and boozing at night.

But before the overall board could be schmoozed, District Manager Susan Stetzer made sure the room understood her position that removing Nino’s for a business locals unanimously reject is unacceptable. The decades-old pizzeria has been shuttered for months because landlord Citi-Urban Management shut gas to the whole building (i.e. purported leak), and even residents are without the utility. She noted that proprietor Nino Camaj still has ten years on the lease and wanted to stick around for the remainder. Or at least had ten years left. By the evening, Nino had mysteriously changed his tune, with applicants having furnished a letter from his lawyer – dated just before the meeting – stating a relinquishment of the lease to the landlord. Coercion; must’ve received an offer he couldn’t refuse UPDATE: EV Grieve reports that Camaj was offered a “low six-figure amount to surrender.

The room was split pretty evenly between the support and opposition, deeply divided along generational lines. with the latter bringing more speakers to the table. It was as if the “young professionals” lined up to drink the Kool-Aid of a co-working space while neighborhood long-timers cried foul of Avenue A “awash in alcohol” (more than 17 OPs in 500 feet).

The panel quickly filed behind Stetzer on this one, and was collectively incensed that Nino’s Pizza was not only being forced out, but that these operators were content to side with a landlord who acts in such wanton manner. Seeing the imminent denial at hand, the applicant team employed the strategy of withdrawing. Keeping the board and the opposition on ice for another month to reassess “given the situation with Nino.”

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Talde and the Joie de Vivre Hotel

This was actually the first application heard last night, and expended two hours. The paperwork was convoluted, and too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak.

The plan calls for four different nightlife components within the skyscraper at 50 Bowery. Hotel operator Commune Hotels is partnering with the Talde team for three of four.

Rice & Gold
Asian-American food served to more than 200 people. Includes outdoor seating within the property line, so not subject to DCA approval. The restaurant is operated by Talde in partnership with Commune, and has its own entrance north of the hotel lobby. Closes at 2am nightly.

Green Lady
Basement club/lounge that fits roughly 119 people. It’ll have live music and DJs most nights of the week, promoted events and with cover charge. Dance floor, too, which will require approval from the DCA for a Cabaret license. Full kitchen with dim-sum for snacks. It also has a dedicated entrance; closes 4am nightly.

Technically on the nineteenth floor, as the top levels are for mechanical equipment. This space also carries indoor and terrace components; closing times 4am and 2am respectively. There will be a hot dog cart for food, plus menu items from Rice & Gold downstairs. Periodic live performances as amenity in the lounge (i.e. no cover charge).

The so-called “Breezeway” on the second floor is the flexible whitebox space. It will house a semi-permanent exhibit (for 3 years) from the Museum of Chinese in America that includes historic artifacts found at the project site. The controversy was more with the convoluted nature of the programming here. With both an indoor and outdoor component, this caused the most concern. Would it become a beer garden? Would drunken patrons congregate to create a noise monster a la Thompson LES? Answer provided – negative. Hotel owner Alex Chu described it as a “serene” refuge where patrons could relax. As the flex, it would also be used for private functions. The board agreed to limit outdoor hours to 10pm and indoor hours to 12am.

The sole soul in overt opposition to the project was CB3 member (not SLA) Mitchell Grubler, who lives in the Confucius Plaza across the way. He spoke of the adverse effect the outdoor space will likely have on the 700+ families living in the complex, and the presence of schools and day care onsite. And what about the traffic congestion, you ask? Well, a transportation expert who visited the site a whopping two times concluded that, by peak hours (7:30-9pm), the vehicle trips are drastically reduced. You be the judge of that, though.

In the end, the location of 50 Bowery near the tumult of the bridge worked in their favor. The hotel licenses were collectively approved without much drama.

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