Musket Room Expansion Looks to Leverage Legacy of Parisi Bakery

Posted on: December 28th, 2021 at 5:06 am by

Photo: Eddie Panta

Bakery or fakery?

This is the question surrounding the Musket Room and its planned expansion into the former Parisi Bakery on Elizabeth Street.

While you might not immediately equate a bar and bakery as a restaurant concept, that’s exactly what’s being pitched to Community Board 2’s SLA committee on an application to grant a full liquor license for the defunct, albeit legendary Parisi wholesale bakery storefront at 290 Elizabeth Street in NoHo.

And this half-baked plan is being taken seriously, except with the restriction on a reasonable closing time.

The WhatNowNY restaurant blog broke the news of The Musket Room’s purposed expansion with the sub-headline: “The Musket Room’s new bakery will be a tribute the iconic Parisi Bakery it will be replacing.” The blog post goes on to say that, “the owners of Musket Room are currently gearing up for an expansion that will see The Musket Room somehow becoming more indulgent than ever before.”

But sisters, Jennifer and Nicole Vitagliano, who have owned and operated the establishment since 2013, ended up with a denial after coming before the SLA committee of Community Board 2 earlier this month.

The denial for a full liquor license appears largely due to the impact a bilevel French/Italian bakery with full bar would have on tenants at 290 Elizabeth Street. The four-story tenement, built in 1887, is in dire neee of renovation, as the CB2 resolution and opposing tenants pointed out. Whether or not the building itself could support the massive renovations necessary was a clear point of contention. And while the application did drop the names of Soho House designer Vicky Charles and South African born architect Larry Cohn, it didn’t include any actual blueprints or schematics on the soundproofing, oven exhaust, or trash room storage promised by the Musket Room team as part of lease stipulations inked with the new owner of 290 Elizabeth Street. (As of this weekend, the ole Parisi Bakery still boasts a “For Lease” sign in its window.)

The debate over the initial denial eventually spilled over to the CB2’s virtual full board meeting on December 17, where The Musket Room team, aided by their attorney, approached CB2 with the opinion that denial was only due to time constraints in finalizing a stipulation during a committee hearing that went well past midnight. Their counsel also took exception with the resolution’s majority vote in denial, stating that at least two SLA committee members were in favor.

But despite the appeals to the full board, and agreeing to at least a 12am closing time on weekends, the CB2 denial remained part of the resolution. That said, the applicant will be able to reapply to the advisory board for full liquor in 30 days.

The main debate on this application appears to be whether the concept for the so-called Elizabeth Street Cafe merits enough “community interest” to override the State’s 500-foot rule. The “neighborhood dining room” pitched in the application to CB2 would be directly next door to Tom and Jerry’s bar, a longstanding watering hole for locals that is open until 4am.

And that’s where the “retail bakery” aspect, and the preservation of a legacy brick-and-mortar bakery kicks in as part of the new bar bakery’s appeal to the committee, upstairs residents, and community at large.

In speaking to the full board, Jennifer Vitagliano noted that concept would have a “more approachable price-point” than the prix-fixe Musket Room, and that the new bar and bakery, just up the street, would help service their small kitchen’s bread and pastry needs.

When speaking before CB2, Vitagliano also said that its 74-seat concept would be similar to Balthazar in SoHo and Lafayette in NoHo.

In terms of being a good neighbor, The Musket Room did meet opposition regarding how it handled Open Restaurants street closure done conjointly with Tacombi and Cafe Habana. Many residents felt caught by surprise when Elizabeth Street south of Houston was suddenly closed without sufficient notice or signage denoting dates and times of closure to vehicular traffic.

The Musket Room’s current roadbed shacks are curtained private cabanas that its website boast as a “winter lodge.” Not to mention the benches on the public sidewalk left outside even when they’re closed and their trash in left in the tree pit since there’s no room left on the curb.

But the applicant did agree to not having any outdoor shack seating for this new concept.

The Musket Room team made it clear that they aren’t trying to recreate Parisi bakery, but their marketing push for community support feels like they are inheriting the legacy the old storefront provides. But if restoring a legacy storefront comes at the cost of hyper-gentrification, where existing residents find themselves as window shoppers at a storefront where they used to walk away with four rolls for a dollar, then perhaps that should be part of the “community interest” examination.

But maybe those days are long gone, maybe that type of storefront operation is all in the past. But right now, it appears that the shell of old storefronts continues to lend cache, authenticity, and even leverage in obtaining a lease, a local brand, as well as aid in obtaining a liquor license for new, more savvy restaurateurs.

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