Light a Grungy Candle for P&G Bar

An adjacent pizzeria, deli and diner have all shuttered in recent years, as the building’s co-op board has pushed to drastically overhaul the location’s retail aesthetic. The old pizza parlor space, for one, is soon to be occupied by high-end chocolatier Jacques Torres.

Rumors have persisted that ownership intends to replace the old low-end dive bar with a deep-pocketed bank branch, though according to the building’s broker, financial institutions are only one group among many fine retailers that have expressed interest in leasing the space.

But the Chahalis clan has refused to go voluntarily, previously rebuffing a proposed $50,000 buyout to vacate the premises tendered a full two years before its lease is up. The ongoing standoff has lately been marred by the landlord’s allegations of late rent payments and accidents involving drunken P&G patrons—accusations the bar has vehemently denied in open letters posted across the premises.

Landlord-tenant tensions are stressful enough under normal business conditions. But imagine the immediate spike in aggravation, not to mention decrease in consumption, when the cozy neighborhood hangout suddenly morphs into a noisy, scaffold-covered hard-hat zone.

The tavern-entrenched family perhaps put too much faith in the powers of historic preservation last fall when the co-op’s storefront plans first came up for city review.

Neighborhood activists rallied around saving P&G’s iconic neon sign, which the co-op’s original blueprints explicitly marked for removal and replacement.

Community leaders cited the sign as an iconic Manhattan landmark, if not a significant beacon of pop culture, which has appeared in the backgrounds of numerous movies and TV shows, including Donnie Brasco and Seinfeld.

Bowing to public pressure, project architect Mr. Acheson publicly pledged in September that “the P&G sign would remain as long as that tenant remains.”

While that promise appeared to appease the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, it provided no assurance of maintaining the famous blazing marker beyond the current Bush administration. Nor did that sign stipulation provide any protections for the actual business beneath the neon.

The bar’s existing lease expires at the end of 2008, and a recent proposal to renew the deal came at a monthly rate of more than $20,000, nearly double the existing rent.

Even if Mr. Chahalis & Co. can survive the invasive storefront construction, then what?

“We don’t wanna make any major changes from being a little corner dive bar to, you know, ‘We have the best seafood on the Upper West Side.’ That’s not our niche,” said Mr. Chahalis. “But the more I look at it, we’re gonna have to fundamentally change something in order to just stay in business. And that’s the last thing we wanna do.<
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“Like wet T-shirt night—well, that’s drastic. I don’t really mean that. But we might have to start doing bar specials and get a real cook in here.”