Gracias Mama Sparks Debate at CB3, but Nets License Approval; Plus Dark Room Shenanigans

Posted on: March 15th, 2016 at 5:00 am by
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Last night was the monthly SLA subcommittee meeting at Community Board 3 headquarters. As usual, the affair lasted deep into the night, as emotions and egos flared. By 9:30pm, only four of the seventeen hopefuls had presented. Here are some notes on the establishments that may or may not affect you.


Gracias Mama, 162 East Broadway

Gracias Mama wasn’t just a replacement venture taking over a vacated space. No, no. One of the backers in sister restaurant Gelso & Grand – Hassan Gholizadeh – purchased the building last December for $6.6 million. That explains the sudden exodus of the decades-running Chinese newsstand and Golden Carriage Bakery that shared the premises, both of which reportedly operated on month-to-month leases.

Anyway, Gholizadeh’s cohorts – Koorosh Bakhtiar and Nima Garos – are now gunning to add Gracias Mama to this fresh acquisition. And CB3 was on board, albeit with tighter stipulations negotiated with the SPaCE Block Association. Despite the heavily Chinese ethnic nature of the long block between Rutgers and Pike Streets, the location of a Buddhist temple next door, a Yeshiva across the street, and the St. Teresa’s church within two hundred feet, the application was pushed through.

The co-principals discussed their intent for Gracias Mama: an “accessible” taco stand with affordable price points, that will serve three meals daily. There will be 34 seats, including 10 fixed bar-stools that encourage luncheonette-style dining. A takeout window is part of the proposal, too, and elicited the most backlash given its location. Situated where the old man used to sell newspapers, the subway entrance is too busy during rush hour and might sustain crowding at the top of the steps. Not only that, there were worries about noise levels into the night.

Seventeen speakers attended to provide testimony, mostly in favor of the applicants and what they’re doing at Gelso & Grand. But it was also a battlefield opportunity for the local block associations at odds with each other: Orchard Street Block Association and Two Bridges Tenants Association (with LES Dwellers) faced-off against SPaCE. The latter won out with the board agreeing to accommodate the memorandum of understanding for full liquor, with hours of operation from 7am through midnight during the week/1am weekends.

The Flower Shop, 107 Eldridge Street

Principal William Tisch and his crew of co-owners (Steven Tisch, Andrew Flynn, Dave Turner, and Dylan Hales) crowded the room. In stark contrast to the withdrawal last month (woefully unprepared), the applicants quickly lawyered up and assembled a more easily digestible pitch for the board to gobble up. Yet, not without compromise.

The presenters touched upon all the media-friendly points of interest: a “neighborhood” joint that serves the greater “community,” that offers “staple Americana” food from chef Michael Hamilton. Plus, they mobilized their base to speak as character witnesses in support. One supporter even noted how the neighborhood should feel privileged to have these guys as operators once all these other nightspots start going out of business (due to higher minimum wage, in his words).

There were legitimate concerns about the basement becoming the focal point as nightclub. And, to that end, it appears that this appears to be Louie & Chan lite. An embattled neighbor spoke about the proliferation of licenses in this particular area (more than 12 OPs), including the latter and Happy Ending. Other criticism including the lack of proper outreach to the neighbors, largely Chinese families who don’t necessarily speak English. No real public benefit was established, other than the fact that their collective pedigree runs deep.

In the end, the panel approved the liquor license with truncated hours (12am closing during the week, 2am Thursday through Saturday).

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Dark Room Space TBD, 165 Ludlow Street

The Dark Room ended its tenure at 165 Ludlow Street in early February. To many, it was good riddance. Then, the application came from a former bartender/DJ (Lori Coleman) to establish a new entity with a focus on whisky. The board wasn’t having it.

Coleman’s lack of experience was the clincher, though upstaged by alleged shenanigans by the applicant counsel. It came to light that the lawyer represents both the buyer and seller in the transaction. Opposition from the LES Dwellers highlighted the attempted subterfuge to keep the license “in the family,” and key money intact for future sale of assets.

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Quality Eats, 177 Ludlow Street

This second outpost of the Quality Eats steakhouse (behind Greenwich Village) will need to wait for official approval. The applicants withdrew last night, despite support from immediate neighbors, because CB3 said the application was not complete.

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