Community Board 7 voted on Tuesday night to recommend a liquor license for a proposed bar at The Century at 25 Central Park West, at West 63rd Street, despite opposition from residents of the area.
The move comes with the stipulation that the bar and its managing partner, Greg Hunt, adhere to a list of 14 guidelines issued by residents, which include bans on outdoor seating, loud music and dancing. The board’s recommendation is non-binding, but will factor into a review by the state’s Liquor Authority. If any of the community’s guidelines are broken following an approval, the liquor license would be revoked.
Mr. Hunt and his colleagues described the bar as a sophisticated, upscale amenity that would target patrons over 35, including visitors of the nearby Lincoln Center. It would have soundproofing and play the jazz of Billie Holiday, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, and not the thumping club music that opponents have insinuated. Light foods would be prepared off-site and heated in the bar’s ovens, but no full kitchen would exist.
Mr. Hunt argued that the bar was consistent with the neighborhood’s character, and he had responded to all of the community demands. A community board member said that the guidelines had been legally notarized as part of the liquor license application. “We’re putting our money where our mouth is,” said Mr. Hunt, a lifetime Upper West Side resident. “We’ve addressed every single one of their concerns.”
Residents of 25 Central Park West and the nearby 15 Central Park West weren’t satisfied, however.
A particular sour point is the closing time of the bar. Mr. Hunt insisted that the bar needed to stay open until 1:30 a.m. from Wednesday to Saturday, an hour later than the 12:30 a.m. closing time from Sunday to Tuesday, to attract the after-theater crowd. He added that the space only held around 65 patrons at once, so the additional four hours would be crucial for economic survival.
Residents disagreed, pointing to restaurants in the area that close earlier, although the proposed bar straddles the line between a full-service restaurant, which typically closes around midnight, and traditional beer bars, which stay open as late as 4 a.m.
An amendment proposed by a board member limiting the bar to a 12:30 a.m. closing time throughout the week was defeated, and the board ended up accepting the 1:30 a.m. closing time on some days, although residents remain opposed.
There’s also the question of zoning. Twenty-five Central Park West is zoned for residential use, but a Gristedes supermarket previously occupied the ground floor of the building. The bar’s lawyers argue that the fact that the space was used in a “non-conforming” way means that the bar can continue to use it in a commercial manner. But in accordance with the arcane approval process, the applicants first must obtain a liquor license before the zoning issue is even considered, and so the issue was downplayed by supporters of the bar.
Meanwhile, residents have hired a number of consultants to bolster their cause, including land use attorney Paul Silver, who is also representing Extell in their massive Riverside Center proposal. He argued against modifying the zoning of the building in order to accommodate the bar, as it would compromise the purely residential character of the area. (Ironically, Extell is attempting to get over a dozen zoning changes approved in its Riverside project.)
If approved, the project will go back to City Planning to sort out the zoning question, which will likely spark more opposition.
Until then, residents will have to get their Billie Holiday and wine fix elsewhere.
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