Holy Headache! Finding Limelight’s Next Act

“Yesterday, this place was insane—I’ve never seen so many people in the store, man,” said Mr. Rivero, who has worked as the boutique’s music buyer for the past six years. “Just to see the reaction when people come in here. They come in and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, I remember I used to hang out there, party over there.’ You know? In different sections, they have different memories.”

Despite those wistful sentiments, the veteran DJ doesn’t expect another nightclub operator to ever move in and restore the late-night revelry. “It wouldn’t work anymore,” Mr. Rivero said. “Especially the way the city is about laws and all that crap. … To get a liquor license for this place—it’s too much.”

For the time being, at least, the pop-up shop, with its booming bass beats drawing in curious passersby off the street, seems an appropriate purgatory between the building’s partying past and its perhaps inevitable afterlife in full-scale retail.

The landlord, Mr. Ashkenazy, has reportedly considered all sorts of possible uses for the highly visible 19th-century structure, but its unique layout and protected status as a designated city landmark pose plenty of limitations.

“Ben Ashkenazy actually showed me his plans to convert it to a cooperative condominium,” Alex Picken, owner of Picken Real Estate and Nightlife Brokerage, once told The Observer. “Part of the puzzle that I don’t understand is, it’s landmarked on the exterior, so you’ve got to keep the stained glass. How does someone buy an apartment and not have windows that you can look out?”

Mr. Picken said that the landlord was also considering some type of retail component—either devoting the entire space to a major tenant (H&M, Barnes & Noble and Anthropologie had been mentioned as possible candidates) or divvying it up into a mini-mall of multiple stores and possibly even a restaurant.

But that, too, could be tricky. “I said, ‘Yeah, but you can’t put signs on it!’” noted Mr. Picken. (Any signage would ultimately be subject to the approval of the city’s nit-picky Landmarks Preservation Commission.)

“The mall idea is actually an interesting idea,” added Mr. Picken. “Maybe you could make it a mini-outlet. But in a church, it’s a strange configuration.”

More recently, Mr. Ashkenazy was in talks with Joe Dirosa of the New York Artists Series to host films, fashion shows and concerts in the old nightclub space. But in October, the deal fell through, with Mr. Dirosa dishing to BlackBook magazine columnist Steve Lewis about the “unreasonable” annual asking rent of $2.4 million plus taxes and expenses—a sum that rivaled the nearly $3 million that the landlord paid to buy Mr. Gatien’s entire business out of bankruptcy in 2001.

It’s unclear exactly what Mr. Ashkenazy now plans to do with the venerable venue. “We’re not going to make any comments about its future or how it’s doing right now,” said Daniel Iwanicki, director of leasing for Ashkenazy Acquisitions Corp. “But when we have something a little more firm, we’ll let you know.”

cshott@observer.com

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