It’s Hard Out Here For a Restaubar Entrepreneur

hsinyu Its Hard Out Here For a Restaubar Entrepreneur
Carry Nation represents at the putative Embassy: A January protest.

Jonathan Hoo had big plans for the abandoned storefront at Second Avenue and East 46th Street, site of the former Hsin Yu restaurant.

The presently empty, single-story structure sits on the corner, with its whited-out windows and stripped, skeletal awning, and informative signs like “CLOSED BY ORDER OF THE COMMISSIONER OF HEALTH AND MENTAL HYGENE.”

Hoo envisioned an “upscale restaurant-lounge,” serving “American-Continental cuisine” and, of course, liquor. Plus, a post-dinnertime DJ and dancing til 4 a.m. on weekends.

In a nod to the neighboring United Nations workforce, Hoo planned to call the place “Embassy.”

But a lot of Hoo’s neighbors would rather just keep the existing eyesore. At least it’s quiet. Noise is, after all, a big deal to residents of Turtle Bay.

Area bars and restaurants are invariably hung with hushing signage, courtesy of the Turtle Bay Association (the real one, this time): “Our neighbors ask that you kindly keep noise to a minimum while enjoying yourself at this establishment.”

No one wants another Fubar, the place on nearby 50th Street where the menu consists of popcorn and additional signage is required to remind boisterous sidewalk congregators to come indoors every once in a while: “IF YOU ARE NOT SMOKING PLEASE SOCIALIZE INSIDE THE BAR.”

Citing worries over increased clamor–as well as public urination and “vomit in the bushes,” according to court papers–a group of nearly 50 residents from seven Hsin Yu-area buildings, calling itself the “Ban The Bar Coalition,” petitioned a Manhattan Supreme Court judge in March to overturn the State Liquor Authority’s approval of Hoo’s license to sell alcohol.

The liquor board OK’d Hoo’s application last December, despite the stated opposition of both the Turtle Bay Association and Community Board 6, as well as politicos including State Senator Liz Krueger, Assemblymember Jonathan Bing, and Councilmember Eva Moskowitz–and also despite state law restricting new bars “within 500 feet of three or more licensed establishments.”

Opponents point to 12 such watering holes operating within that 150-yard radius, including, according to court papers, such notorious nightspots as Don Veitia Restaurant and Friar’s Coffee Shop.

The SLA nonetheless determined that Hoo’s plans fit the law’s public-interest exemption because, well, no good eatery survives on food alone.

“An on-premises liquor license is simply a necessary requirement to any successful restaurant,” the panel ruled.

Well, sure!

In early August, however, Judge Eileen Bransten quietly sided with those clamoring for fewer clamors, annulling the SLA’s decision as “arbitrary and capricious” and ordering the liquor board to reconsider the evidence. On Aug. 19, Ban The Bar declared victory on its Web site: “Not only did we win…the court picked up the legal fees!”

An SLA spokeswoman says that the board is now re-reviewing Hoo’s application and soon plans to schedule a repeat of last fall’s 500-foot hearing to further examine the issue. [UPDATE: The hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 12.]

Hoo’s attorney, Bruno Gioffre, for one, can hardly wait. “The things that I heard when I did that 500-foot hearing, some of the residents were comparing [the proposed venue] to Hurricane Katrina and 9/11,” he said. “It was ridiculous.”

Gioffre said that his client might appeal the court’s decision. He said that Hoo already nixed plans for a rooftop patio and further pledged to install triple-pane windows in an attempt to pacify his silence-obsessed neighbors.

“He’s been very reasonable,” the lawyer said.

Gioffre–who, Embassy opponents point out, is related to SLA Deputy Commissioner for Licensing Fred Gioffre–said that Hoo remains committed to his restaubar plans, citing the entrepreneur’s existing 18-year lease on the property.

But, he said, “There’s gonna come a time when he wants this to be decided in order to move forward.”

- Chris Shott