Steve Wiebe has been hearing the same question repeatedly: “Is the bar closing?”
His patrons have good reason for asking.
Mr. Wiebe’s Westside Brewery Co., located at the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and 76th Street, is just about the last business left on the block.
Apart from the bar, only the low-budget Amsterdam Inn directly above it remains in operation on this side of the street.
Both the hotel and tavern are staying put, though, which somewhat complicates things for developer the Related Companies, which has otherwise wiped out a whole strip of storefronts in ravenous pursuit of the full block.
“WARNING KEEP OUT POISON BAITED AREA,” says a sign on the former Equinox Fitness Club, once located next-door to the Amsterdam Inn.
“WE HAVE BAD NEWS … THIS LOCATION OF AMSTERDAM BILLIARDS IS CLOSED,” reads another sign at the old pool hall a mere two doors away.
Signage at the adjacent Champion Parking lot tells a similar story: “Effective Dec. 31 This Location Is Closing Permanently. Please Make the Necessary Arrangements to Relocate Your Vehicle Immediately.”
The corner space that once housed the Chirping Chicken, located at the opposite end of the block, is also boarded-up. But that restaurant hasn’t gone far; it recently reopened just across the street.
That’s right: “The Chicken Has Crossed the Road,” according to a message scrawled in chalk inside the cheeky eatery’s entrance.
Why, you might ask, did the poultry place make good on the old fowl joke? To make way for ritzy new condos, of course.
Mixed-use maestros the Related Companies have engulfed all but 25 feet of the frontage along the west side of Amsterdam between 76th and 77th streets under a plan to demolish the old buildings in favor of more glamorous new construction.
Much to the dismay of some Upper West Side residents, the structures scheduled for destruction include the historic Dakota Stable, which neighborhood preservationists unsuccessfully lobbied to landmark last fall.
In the hallowed horse stalls’ place, the developer plans to erect a high-rise residential tower, featuring all-new ground-level retail and a sprawling second-floor Equinox gym to replace the old one. The entire 18-story complex would have spanned the entire block, were it not for the holdouts on the southern corner.
All that remained in the wrecking ball’s intended path was the slender, five-story building that presently houses Mr. Wiebe’s specialty brew bar and the discount inn upstairs.
Neither business is budging.
“The owner refused to sell,” said Ogie, the crusty concierge working the inn’s reception desk on Monday night.
Hotelier and building owner Jacob Oved’s apparent decision to stiff-arm the developer has forced Related to scale back its vision and construct the new condos around the rebel lot.
Related’s architect of record, Ismael Leyva, has filed a sort of jigsaw-shaped construction plan, which, according to city records, abuts up to and around the back of Mr. Oved’s 25-foot-wide, 90-foot-deep footprint—a plan that the Building Department recently disapproved. Still, despite a few kinks, the plan is expected to move forward.
One source told Counter Espionage that the developer also maintains air rights above the Amsterdam Inn, suggesting at least the possibility of overhead construction.
A Related executive declined to comment for the record on the project’s specifics.
Contacted through his broker, Mr. Oved similarly declined to discuss his reasons for not unloading his hotel and watering-hole complex to the deep-pocketed developers—although giving up the Amsterdam Inn would have cost him a quarter of his present foothold in the New York hotel market.
Mr. Oved has carved a little niche under the slogan “Boutique hotels for the budget-minded,” with similar cut-rate inns in Murray Hill and Union Square. He also runs the even cheaper Central Park Hostel on West 103rd Street.
With just 28 tiny rooms, only some of which feature bathrooms—other showers and toilets are located in the hallway—the creaky-staired, hostel-style Amsterdam Inn, which offers accommodations for as little as $99 a night, is popular with European tourists and remains profitable, according to several sources.
“I think he did a smart thing,” said Mr. Wiebe, the hotelier’s suds-slinging downstairs tenant. “If you don’t need the money, why sell?”
The bar, meanwhile, will continue to pour beer from its 30 taps—“only one of which is Bud,” a favorite of European visitors, Mr. Wiebe said—at least through February 2008, when its present 15-year lease expires.
Given the forthcoming 18 to 22 months of noisy daytime demolition and construction next-door and out back, the bar owner is merely thankful to work in the nightlife industry.
“I’m not concerned with losing business,” Mr. Wiebe said. “I figure I’ll be serving lots of construction workers.”