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New York Times: Plans for Ground-Floor Bar Make Residents Hit Roof

 

    The Central Park West Café, depending on whom you ask, would be either a serene wine bar with a Duke Ellington ambience or a rowdy, ear-splitting, velvet-roped nightclub.

    Not a drop of Bordeaux has been served, nor a single bar stool set down, but the cafe has already stirred the ire of its soon-to-be neighbors in the historic Century building overlooking Central Park. “It’s a terrible intrusion — an insult to the expectations of the neighborhood,” said Roberta Brandes Gratz, a writer and member of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission whose apartment is directly above the proposed cafe. “This isn’t Trump International.”

    New Yorkers are known to be persnickety when it comes to sharing space. But since the building has a coveted park-side location, and the prospective neighbor is a watering hole that closes at 3 a.m., all-out war has broken out.

    The condo board has hired a lobbying firm, the Parkside Group, and created a Web site to voice its opposition. Last month, the board dispatched doormen, tape measures in hand, to measure the distance to the nearest school, hoping to find grounds for a legal challenge.

    The bar’s proponents have fired back with an energetic campaign of their own, introducing a Web site last month offering images of the bar — ruby chairs, twinkling chandeliers and more, all meant to suggest elegance and class.

    “It has hit a chord across the building,” said Paul Millman, president of the condo board at 25 Central Park West, which houses a sprinkling of prominent names among its 400 units. “It has the potential to keep us awake well into the night.”

    On Wednesday, the debate will come to the local community board. A subcommittee will decide whether to endorse the bar’s bid for a liquor license, and in July the full board will vote. The community board’s vote is not binding, but the State Liquor Authority will take it into consideration when deciding whether to grant a license.

    Greg Hunt, managing partner of the Central Park West Café, said he believed residents misunderstood his vision. Mr. Hunt, 52, who lives four blocks from the Century and grew up on the Upper West Side, said his plans were in line with the spirit of the neighborhood. “If anyone tried to open a nightclub on Central Park West,” he said, “I would be the first one to oppose it.”

    Mr. Hunt said he dreamed of building a quiet space that could serve as a late-night retreat for Lincoln Center concertgoers. He said the only noise would be background music — jazz and blues, mostly — and the sidewalk would be well patrolled by his workers so that crowds would not loiter.

    Mr. Hunt has developed other high-class establishments, including Amsterdam Billiards, a billiard parlor. The cafe would offer light food choices, like panini and salads, that would be prepared off-site.

    Mr. Hunt said he had no plans to apply for a license that would allow dancing or gatherings by large groups in the space. He says he expects that only about 65 customers at a time will fit. He said he planned to include his intentions to maintain a quiet space in the lease with the building’s landlord.

    “I am tired of walking into a restaurant or bar or cafe where the music level is so high and the din of voices is so high that you have to shout to have yourself heard,” Mr. Hunt said.

    Indeed, he said he expected that many residents of the Century would be among his best customers, though he acknowledged that he had yet to hear from any who supported his plans.

    Despite Mr. Hunt’s efforts to dispel rumors, residents are reluctant to welcome a bar into the space, where a Gristedes market once stood. An art gallery has occupied the 2,900-square-foot space since the store closed several years ago.

    The Century, between 62nd and 63rd Streets, is a West Side landmark, one of the famed Art Deco buildings to spring from the 1930s, and is home to many millionaires and celebrities.

    More than 350 residents have signed a petition opposing the Central Park West Café, and hundreds of letters have been sent to elected officials.

    Gale Brewer, who represents the area on the City Council, said she hoped that Mr. Hunt would change its operating hours. She said that 3 a.m. was too late. “I don’t know if there’s soundproofing in the world that can curb all the sound,” Ms. Brewer said.

    State Senator Thomas Duane said that businesses like the Central Park West Café had to accept strict limitations if they wanted to coexist in residential buildings.

    “It takes a very special, a very careful, a very, very civic- and community-minded person to be able to operate a liquor license establishment in that kind of residential neighborhood,” Mr. Duane said. “This is high-profile. It’s expensive real estate.”

    Beverly Camhe, a film producer who lives on the third floor of the Century, said the bar would tarnish the neighborhood’s character.

    “It’s not elitism,” she said. “When people decide to move to Central Park West, it’s with a set of assumptions and a commitment to the environment and the park and the neighborhood.”

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    Publication date: 
    Friday, June 4, 2010 - 00:00