The owner of a Cuban bar and restaurant slated to open on the ground-floor of a West 26th Street condominium is looking for a new home because of organized opposition from the building’s condominium association.
Marco Britti attended the late August meeting of the Community Board 4 business licenses and permits committee with his attorney, as did about 40 local residents, who delivered a petition with 249 signatures from both area residents and business owners. Britti, complaining that he’d been “publically embarrassed,” skipped the September meeting and says he is now looking for a new venue on the opposite side of 26th Street, which falls instead under Community Board 5’s jurisdiction.
At the August meeting, Britti, the operator of the Village’s Favela Cubana, was denied his application for a liquor license for a 96-person bar and restaurant, Cuban Star, at 150 W. 26th Street between 6th and 7th avenues, and was instructed to re-submit at the full board’s September meeting. He and his attorney, James DiPasquale, walked out and did not return.
Britti had already negotiated the lease agreement with the building’s landlord, Steven Israel, but had not yet signed it. Cuban Star would have taken over the space currently occupied by Organic Modernism furniture store, which decided not to renew its lease.
“If I thought it was a detriment to the building, I wouldn’t put it there,” said Israel. While he allowed that a club would be “bad for the building,” where units range from $2 to $4.5 million, he said “no one has ever discussed having a club down there.” The paperwork called for a bar and restaurant.
Residents were not convinced. They targeted the meeting because they felt it was important to take action as early in the process as possible, before Britti moved on to apply for city building permits. “It’s about getting the license,” said Richard Winter, who lives on 26th Street and is a member of the block association. “Once you have it, forget it.”
Dan Shulman, president of the Condominium Association, outlined the residents’ concerns, which are based on Favela Cubana’s model: “Britti signed his name to Community Board 2’s stipulations,” which oversees the Favela Cubana site, “that aren’t followed. He explicitly signed a stipulation saying he will not serve alcohol on the sidewalk café after 10 and the sliding doors must close at 10: 30.”
But Favela Cubana patrons are served drinks until closing, according to Shulman, who says that Britti has acknowledged to him that the eastside location serves drinks past 10:30, and allows dancing two nights a week without a cabaret license.
Britti admits that the stipulations say “that on Monday- Thursday, I have to close the doors and stop serving alcohol at 10 30.” When asked if people get drinks later than that, Britti responded “I never got a ticket or a violation for that.”
As for dancing, he said, “Is dancing illegal?”
Paul Seres, co-chair of Community Board 4’s permits and licensing committee, commented on Britti’s attitude. “I sat there [at the Community Board meeting] and gave the guy multiple opportunities to change his hours and mode of operation,” he said. “The guy wasn’t willing to work with the community.”
But Britti was frustrated because “they didn’t give me the option to stipulate” —though he admits to not upholding his current stipulations.
Currently, there are 14 establishments with liquor licenses within 500 feet of the proposed Cuban Star. In 2009, Fondue 26, LLC filed to open a family restaurant on the block – but that site now houses The Ainsworth, a sports bar with 25 flat screen televisions, which operates late into the night. The 26th Street Block Association opposed Cuban Star out of fear that “this might turn into another Ainsworth,” explained Shulman.
By mid-September, Britti “decided to squash the whole thing,” but he hasn’t given up completely. “We’re going to proceed from here and find a new location on the north side of 26th Street,” he says, which falls in Community Board 5, not 4.
Shulman, adamant in his opposition, said that if Britti tries to open on the other side of the block, “I would use what we’ve gathered with Community Board 5.”