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."