P&G to Landlord: Hands Off the Neon!

The neon lights are bright, for now.

For more than 60 years, the art-deco-style P&G “Cafe Bar” sign has colorfully illuminated the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and West 73rd Street. It has also served as a blazing backdrop for various films and TV shows, including Seinfeld and Donnie Brasco.

Yet proprietors of the historic Upper West Side watering hole now fear that its future isn’t so bright.

This week they launched a media campaign after its landlord unveiled a master plan to make all of the retail signage on the street uniform.

This comes on the heels of its three neighboring businesses closing down.

“We don’t know for a fact that they are going to try and pull our neon down, but we’re concerned,” bar manager Steve Hale told the Observer earlier this week. “If you look at the front of our building, it looks like a slum now, with our bar on the corner, because the two stores next to us are just boarded up and Vinnie’s sign is ripped down.”

At a Sept. 14 meeting of Community Board 7’s Parks & Preservation Committee, architect David Acheson, appearing on behalf of owner 175 W. 73rd Tenants Corp., did little to alleviate Hale’s anxiety. While Acheson’s drawings of an otherwise standardized storefront did include P&G’s existing high-wattage signage, Hale was more interested in the fine print: “RESTORE OR REPLACE.”

Acheson explained that the co-op’s board of directors intends to maintain the neon–which he described as “an important artifact”–“as long as that business is there.”

Or, in other words, about two years. The bar’s current lease runs out on Dec. 31, 2008, and Hale says the longtime family-owned business was recently informed that it’s not getting renewed. Three weeks ago, he adds, the building’s retail rental agent offered P&G some $50,000 to vacate the premises ASAP–a proposal which Hale’s father, bar owner Thomas Chahalis, balked at.

“My father told him, You want us out of here you give us half a million dollars, and three months rent, and give us time to find a new space and figure out what we can do with the sign. And we’ll get out of your hair. But don’t insult us,” Hale says.

Michael Lorimer, president of the co-op’s board of directors, confirmed that some financial haggling was taking place. “[Chahalis] offered a higher amount. The co-op offered a lower amount. That’s where it stands,” Lorimer says. “Unless he comes down, I think you can look forward to the P&G bar being there.”

At least through 2008. “We’re not unrealistic to think that we’ll be here in two and a half years,” says Hale. “Our ideal would be to work out a new lease. If we can’t do that, our next step is, where can we relocate? And can we bring our sign with us?”

What plans does the co-op have for that space, once the historic dive bar packs up its beloved sign? “What we’ve been hearing recently, including from people that work in the building, is that it’s gonna be a bank,” says Hale, who points to at least 10 existing financial institutions within a three-block radius.

Lorimer declined to comment specifically on the banking rumors. “There’s nothing planned solid,” he said.

Follow this link for the thoughts of Mike Taranto, weekend bartender, published on Manhattan User’s Guide earlier this week.

–Chris Shott P&G to Landlord: Hands Off the Neon!