Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Koi Denied

Mega-restaurant Koi was denied licensure at last night's CB3 meeting. Even though they are purchasing the former Salvation Army building, and their real estate agent stated that beautification of the building was contingent on them getting a liquor license, the board shot them down, citing increased traffic, noise, and 19 other liquor licenses within 500 feet.

After several hours in a stifling hot community room at the JASA Center, a team of 6 Koi representatives, all of whom wore all black, stood up to make their case. There was a palpable shift in the desultory air--a sudden rising of energy. The Koi people handed out fliers with blueprints (6,000 square feet, 230 seats!) and menus (Kobe beef potstickers!), and told the board they'd like to provide a "warm, inviting environment" for the community--with business hours until 4:00 in the morning.

Community members spoke next, beginning with Stuart Zamsky, representative of the 5th St. Block Association, who said that the recent proliferation of hotels, bars, and restaurants on the Bowery "has turned this neighborhood into a free-for-all, like Mardi Gras. People come here from all over with a sense of entitlement--they scream and yell all night and make the neighborhood unseemly."

Here's an abbreviated play by play of the rest, written as a "scene." Imagine the two characters, CB3 and Koi, each as a kind of chorus, as these lines were spoken by various individuals in the two groups:

CB3: What makes you think you'll get business until 4:00 in the morning?

Koi: The tourists from all the hotels will come.

CB3: [incredulous] No, they won't. The hotels are at 60% occupancy. And they all have their own bars and restaurants. You'll attract people from outside the neighborhood. A lot of people.

Koi: Isn't it a good thing for us to come and bring a lot of people down here?

CB3: Have you guys ever been out here at 1:00 AM on the Bowery? You can't get here in a cab, there's too much traffic. If you want to come here by limo, you're hosed. No one can get down here.

Koi: This restaurant will bring people who will help all the small businesses.

CB3: If anything, you'll hurt the small businesses! Will this help the neighborhood? No. This won't be a restaurant for the community. The median income in this community is $31,000. I bet the median income of people coming to this restaurant is $31,000 x 5.

Koi: What do you see moving into that space with the economy as it is?

CB3: A theater would be great. The Amato Opera House is closing, that would be a great place for an opera house.

Koi: Or a hotel could come in and build it up!

CB3: [with increased incredulity] Ha! Lots of luck to them! In this economy? Besides, it's the mayor that likes hotels, not us. We only let the hotels in by force.

Koi: The residents who came to our meeting the other night said they liked the look of the restaurant, because we're not making it modern--even though they're not happy with it, overall, they're glad it's not being built up.

CB3: Listen, your restaurant chain is in Midtown, Vegas, L.A.--this is the Bowery. It's not the same thing. We don't have the infrastructure to support the extra traffic. This is a destination restaurant. No matter where you put it, people will come. So put it in the South Bronx!

Koi: [irritated] We're going to beautify the building! What you want in this economy is just not going to happen. A theater? [scoffs] Who's going to open a theater here?

CB3: You may not have been reading about it in the news, but the neighborhood has been at war with the outside world, trying to preserve its identity, and this restaurant is just another beacon of "It's all over."

The End


EV Grieve said...

Bravo! Author, author!

And go CB3.

But I'm guessing that this drama is far from over. We certainly havent heard the last from Koi.

JackS said...

Wow! Excellent news. The Village has more than enough of stuff like that for now. Win one for the small guy!

cvinzant said...

Excellent description.
CB3 always puts on a good show in the first act. Let's hope they don't follow their usual arc and completely cave in the last act like they always do.

Bowery Boogie said...

i like the play-by-play. well done. Grieve is right, i'm sure koi will be back with some more strong armed tactics.

Jeremiah Moss said...

the lead spokesperson for Koi seemed really shocked that the community didn't want their good will. really shocked.

Anonymous said...

Yay!! I hope CB3's judgement stands. The arrogance of these swank establishments is sickening. 'Good for the community'...yeah, sure. Who's kidding who here?

esquared said...

Fuck Yeah!

Melanie said...

A good step in the right direction. Imagine--total depression (no money) and all those "poor" people will drown their sorrows there and it will become The Bowery 21st century style. With accoutrements. GRR.

joeaguy said...

Bigger doesn't always equal better. I think there is a big economic shift back towards sustainability that these developers just don't get, hence the amazement portrayed by the Koi folks. Bloomburgh doesn't seem to get this, Robert Moses didn't get this. Change is inevitable, but it shouldn't be a destructive force for the local population to the benefit of a transient population. Thats a great way to end up with an empty city.

Goggla said...

Wow, I was beginning to have my doubts that any big $$ would ever be denied a license.

Who would ever build a theater here? How dare they scoff! I think that would be a perfect venue.

Anonymous said...

God what will be next? Flop houses?

: )

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter what the CB3 Says, it's still going to turn into a huge luxurious enclave for Hollywood Stars, hipsters, and huge giant franchises

BaHa said...

I'm afraid that this will be only a bump in the road on the way to Koi.

Anonymous said...

Quite frankly I don't understand the celebration. Based on the drawings, it seems like the plan was pretty much to keep the building as is. So is the objection to any place that is upscale period? God knows a theater isn't going to be able to match bids with any more profitable establishment that will glass-and-steelify the corner. It's not that a different use wouldn't serve the community better, it's that it's not realistic.

Do you all also object to jewel bako et. al.? How about Abraco? The East Village/Bowery is already gentrified, the fight now is to preserve the distinctive culture & architecture, along with the livability of the area. That's why the met getting a lease renewal was so important to the neighborhood. It really pisses me off when this type of reaction gives license for cb3/SLA to deny places like mercury dime a liquor license but not make a peep for the deeper-pocketed cooper square hotel which is a blight on the neighborhood and a nuisance to rent-controlled neighbors. Don't get me started on the 5th st. block association. If you're against gentrification who the hell do you think controls/comprises that organization? They would certainly get rid of Fish Bar if they could, would that improve the neighborhood?

I love this blog, and read it every day. But there's an undercurrent of "this neighborhood is for middle-income individuals who moved here in the 80s because they liked the punk music scene and no one else" that rears its ugly head from time to time. What about the woman who opened the new coffeeshop/italian sandwich place on 2nd ave between 4th and 5th who herself lives in the neighborhood? Is she ruining the east village? There's a lot wrong with how downtown is being developed, but it's not the bare fact that upscale establishments are colonizing the area.

hntrnyc said...

Nice work as always Jeremiah, though I must say that I am totally surprised by the result.

Anonymous said...


Community members spoke next, beginning with Stuart Zamsky, representative of the 5th St. Block Association, who said that the recent proliferation of hotels, bars, and restaurants on the Bowery "has turned this neighborhood into a free-for-all, like Mardi Gras." Ah, Hello, has Zamsky ever read a book about the Bowery and what it has always been about? It's been a nightlife destination for 100 years and it's zoned for it! These CM member are so full of it- they are selfish people themselves, worried about their property values (if they own) or having their little piece of Conneticut if they live in $200 rent controlled apartment. I hope Koi opens, that what NYC needs- more businesses employing people. The losers trying to hold this up would never get hired at a spot like Koi- they're all lazy, negative people that wanna sit around and complain that life (and NYC) passed them by. What a shame that these are the people that actually have a say in how things get done around here in 2009. Disgraceful!

Anonymous said...

As always the community board hacks will go "too far". Eventually rent controls will be eliminated so that the natural order/selection can properly weed out the do-nothings that presently exist solely to attempt to stop any attempts at progress. If a new estaplishment is a bad neighbor there are TONS of adequate ways to shut them down, so why is it that these jerks won't even give a place a chance to open? If it were up to these types of people NYC would have no subways or roads- how in God's name are they being perceived as responsible actors in the ability of other citizens to open businesses or employ people? WOW, this is a total trip!

bryan said...

Loved the news -- and the post.

Thought this line was funny: "People come here from all over with a sense of entitlement--they scream and yell all night and make the neighborhood unseemly."

I thought preserving the unseemliness of the Bowery was part of the issues. Historically it's one of the most unseemly neighborhood's the city's known, and was for more than a century. I get the point, but wonder if "and make the neighborhood slick with yuppie vomit" would have been more accurate?

Anonymous said...

A theater? [scoffs] Who's going to open a theater here?

How about La Mama, NYTW, Duo, Dixon Place, The Kraine...? Restaurants full of pseudo celebrities aren't the sole reason people come to a neighborhood. Of course, Koi makes the same "we're bringing culture to the area" b.s. argument that all of them make; angry that the savages aren't grateful for their colonial benevolence.

JackS said...

These "Anonymous" commenters crack me up. Anyone that passionate about a sushi place opening up on the Bowery when there are DOZENS of similar places nearby has got to be a shill.

I'd actually have a lot more respect for Web 2.0 shills if they had logins, accounts and were transparent about who they are.

As it stands, when they pull nonsense they are simply attempting to create a false "grass roots" movement where none exists.

Also, a community board doesn't have to be elected to be valid. If there's anything we've learned from Albany Senators gone wild is that being elected in NYC only leads to headaches.

Kudos again for folks in the community standing up and saying enough is enough.

Nobody wants a neighborhood to fall to decay. But to declare that ONE restaurant is doing the neighborhood a favor by opening up? Give us all a break.

Scott said...

Absolutely fantastic post! It was so good that I had to read it out loud to my wife.

Its good to see people standing up for this neighborhood. We certainly dont need another schmancy japanese restaurant here.

Keep it up!

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks--it was worth waiting hours in the broiling heat for that last bit. very exciting to see the CB and the people stand up for the neighborhood.

Ed said...

I have to agree with the naysayers here. Isn't this resistance coming a little too late. I mean you have all these wtf places on Allen Street opening in the last year, plus everything that is on the Bowery, and you are going to draw the line at a sushi restaurant?

I don't have a solution here. But there is a navel gazing quality to New York liberalism which I hate. OK, the city is losing its character but we are going to change things by preventing a sushi restaurant from opening. That will help.

Jeremiah Moss said...

true, Ed, the bowery is already wrecked, but the line has to be drawn somewhere and this sushi place is enormous.

someone else mentioned liberalism. why is it a liberal-only value to protect the working class, middle class, and poor from destruction by the economic elites?

it never ceases to amaze me how the conservative republicans managed to convince so many middle, working class and poor people that the economic elite are on their side. not so, never was, never will be.

bryan said...

Ah, Hello, has Zamsky ever read a book about the Bowery and what it has always been about? It's been a nightlife destination for 100 years and it's zoned for it!

This isn't at all the point I was making about the Bowery, which must have been submitted about the same time Anonymous sent the above. The idea that Old Bowery nightlife would find its modern successor in a 230-seat high-end sushi place with Lindsay Lohan pulling up out front in her stretch hummer, 200 photographers in tow, is simply ridiculous.

I was actually appreciating the idea that the neighborhood association would use the threat of unseemliness on the Bowery to argue against a chi-chi restaurant coming in. Delicious irony. Unseemly here doesn't equal crime and grime -- it equals conspicuous consumption and celebrity overindulgence.

We have nice enough sushi in the neighborhood as is, as several people have pointed out already.

JB said...

Some of the anonymous commentors are clearly hacks/shills, but I was one of the earlier ones and I want to clarify my position and ask you all a question.

Is the resistance to Koi because it's expensive, sceney, or a chain? Do you all also oppose a place like Ippudo because it's a chain and is somewhat pricey/sceney? How about jewel bako et. al or mermaid inn or kasadela? Considering that the drawings look to retain the building's exterior appearance, I don't understand the outrage. Can someone please just specifically articulate what it is about Koi that generates this much opposition.
In my opinion, if you want to have any actual influence on how the neighborhood develops, you can't just oppose every single chi-chi place coming to town. That's a ticket to political irrelevance.

JackS said...

JB, how many sushi places does the Village have already? Tons. I'm fairly convinced you're a shill because it doesn't make sense why anyone who question the opposition to this unless there is a vested interest.

Also, it's not a community’s job to explain why they are opposed to even more development.

Perhaps the reason they are fighting so strongly now is with the economy down the crapper, this is a magical moment where the CB can say something, stop something and preserve their neighborhood.

I always find it amazing when folks defend businesses as if they were people and then dismiss people exercising their right to oppose something. Seems like some shills here would love businesses to just open with impunity and with no regards to others.

JB said...

Hey JackS,

I absolutely do have a vested interest, just not what you're thinking. I live on 7th between 1st and 2nd ave, and my family has lived in the neighborhood for 4 generations. I plan on living here indefinitely. I have absolutely no relationship to koi. But I am a lawyer, and I can afford to eat at Mermaid Inn from time to time. Does my income and occupation preclude my involvement in the community?

My interest is influencing the genesis of the neighborhood in a positive direction. I'd much rather have koi in that space than have it ripped down for a glass and steel high rise luxury condo, which is a very likely alternative. Would I rather have a be a performing space? Sure. But ignoring the reality of what is feasible for the community to accomplish results in ceding control developers et. al.

There are plenty of sushi restaurants around here, but If they put a fancy french restaurant there I'm sure your reaction would be the same.

And if we're gonna infer someone's interest from the positions they hold, then let's infer you're friendly with the CB. The CB is appointed, and beholden to those who appoint them. CB didn't do a goddamn thing to resist the cooper square hotel or the monstrosity that is kurve. I have absolutely zero respect for the CB, and anyone who follows the happenings in the community knows they're morally bankrupt.

I absolutely don't think businesses should be able to open and ruin a community with impunity, which is why I try carefully to distinguish between businesses that do positive harm to the community and those which are bearable. You, however, don't even attempt to make such distinctions. Sure Koi is a chain, so you may be able to discount its institutional interest. But a place like mercury dime surely isn't, actual people invest time, money, and effort in an attempt to open a business that gasp, they think provides something the community wants. The same goes for that chocolate shop in extra place, and the abhorrent treatment the owner, who I believe lives in the neighborhood, was subjected to by commentors in this network of blogs.

People like you don't care about the externalities you inflict on others or the community. It's like a teenager with dyed hair and voluminous piercings volunteering for the Dean campaign in Iowa. It might make you feel good about yourself, but it's turning off primary voters. Likewise, you can go ahead and cheer for the CB, but if you cheer each and every time a liquor license gets denied regardless of who's trying to get one, then the powers that be will dismiss you as a fringe nimby. I, for one, care more about what actually happens to the neighborhood than symbolic victories.

My beef isn't with Koi's specific treatment by the CB, and I personally would rather have the space go to a better use. My beef is with the superficial, unexamined, and unfocused per se opposition to a restaurant because of your perception of its character. No one wants the neighborhood to become another meatpacking district, but buckshot opposition ain't gonna cut it. I agree with the overwhelming majority of positions on vanishingnewyork and evgrieve, but there's this ugly underbelly of reactionism that rears its head from time to time.

It's also about identity politics. Who is the neighborhood for? Who should have input into the development of the community? You should have gotten used to affluent individuals living in the neighborhood long ago. Gentrification is a cyclical, inevitable, but harnessable force if you're careful about it. Jeremiah talks frequently about the false choice between unfettered development and a return to the days where the neighborhood looked like a post-apocalyptic wasteland. We can have a real community AND low crime rates, but only if we are pragmatic. Shaking your cane at every young whippersnapper who moves in to the neighborhood is sufficient if all you want to do is vent, but not if you want to have real influence.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Koi's sushi comes from pristine waters and is served on golden platters--
and the people who eat it believe their shit don't stink. Feh.

Anonymous said...

JB, i couldn't agree with you more. Unfortunately the CB crowd is decidedly reactionary. Instead of thinking about compromise or solutions, they simply rail against EVERYTHING. This is why ultimately they will be shown to be unreliable as influences on their own communities.
What's annoying though is the undercurrent of jealousy and the use of class warfare in an attempt to grind this vibrant city to a halt. These jerks really want the city to resemble the 1970s again. Why? Is it because that would make them feel better about themselves? Probably. The childish, "I'm against you because you've been successful" attitude has got to go though, as it will when more and more gentrification takes hold.
In the meantime, these reactionaries shoot themselves as well as their neighbors in the foot- who do you think WORKS in these restaurants and other businesses? Middle and working class people are the ultimate victims here, but the loudmouths don't see that or choose to ignore it.

Jeremiah Moss said...

have you anti-CBers actually been to a CB3 meeting? while my post highlights their reaction to Koi, which was definitively negative, and with good reason, they hardly "railed against everything." in fact, most of the business people got a pass and were allowed to extend their hours and get new licenses. i was hoping for more community protection!

and they really deliberate on everything. they think it through, debate, weigh, and measure all the possibilities.

you should sit through a five-hour meeting and then see if there's a lot of reactionary railing against. hardly the case.

JB said...

To clarify, I wasn't trying to say that the CB rails against everything, but rather certain sections of the neighborhood do so. I absolutely agree that the CB typically rubberstamps business requests, which is why I think cheering them on for grandstanding on koi is short-sighted. When they do deny someone, they make great fanfare about it, and then simultaneously approve liquor licenses and hours extensions for much more offensive/noisy venues.
I'm not sure exactly what gets you the CB's blessing, probably some combination of having the right connections, greasing the right palms, or slipping by relatively unnoticed, but I do not think it has anything to do with the impact the business will actually have on the neighborhood. I've been to a few meetings, not many, but I haven't been impressed. If the CB is legitimately changing into an entity that actually looks out for the neighborhood, that's definitely a good thing.

In any event, I've somehow painted myself into the position of defending koi when what I really meant to do was indict the reaction for lack of nuance. I absolutely disagree with the anonymous commentor following my previous post ("don't worry if we price you out of the neighborhood, you can get a job sweeping our floors!"), and hopefully next time you all hear from me it'll be more agreement and less nitpicking.

Jill said...

I was really upset to have missed this month's meeting so thanks for providing the play by play.

As for comparing a 230 seat destination restaurant to a tiny place like Jewel Bako which seats maybe 30 at a time (I don't know I've never been inside) is stupid.

If they expect to be full, and why wouldn't they?, they will turn each seat around 3 times a night, bringing an additional 700 people a night into the neighborhood, and none of them will use a bus or subway. All of them will be loud as they wait outside and wander around for their table to be ready. It will be dreadful.

I am incredulous that the commenters who support Koi are too afraid to reveal even a fake name. If you support something, stand up and support it. They just sound like thugs without anything meaningful to add to the conversation, just a "you suck because you oppose us" mentality. JB at least put forth a good conversation and a set of initials - bravo for you.

JackS said...

Jill, very well put! Excellent in fact.

JB, the fact you say that Koi should be approved to prevent another glass tower is incredulous. 100% of nobody is planning new glass tower projects in this economy. And hopefully for a good long time thanks to the depth of this recession (depression?) The worst that will happen to this space is it would stay vacant until someone else does something.

Meaning, 100% ado about 100% of nothing.

To the anonymous loudmouth who said the following:
"...who do you think WORKS in these restaurants and other businesses? Middle and working class people are the ultimate victims here..."

This is a laughable claim. Outside of a handful of front-room staff, the prep/cooking/operations area of such a place will be staffed with the same folks who staff other places. Very low paid and not even close to middle class immigrant workers who will come to/from their shifts either on bikes or subway. Folks who would love to become middle class, but are somehow relegated to doing crap work for crap pay and will eventually move elsewhere since this city they helped build is just unfriendly towards a hard working person making their mark in the world.

The claim that these projects “create new jobs” is ridiculous. Temporary gigs are not jobs. And low pay is not a life-changing incentive.

Anonymous said...

Developers are the only people who have partially transformed the Bowery from the stinking shi*hole it used to, the slightly less stinking sh*hole it is now.

CB3 is delusional is they think hotel occupancy is "at 60% now". That's just a flat out lie. I hope the developer builds a hotel, just to piss the hypocrites at CB3 off, all of whom are also earning "$30,000 x 5". Just look up some of their residences....Menin, Nadel, all live in million+ dollar co-ops. You people are waaaaaay ignorant if you haven't noiticed that.