[The War on Fun by Wilfrid: October 26, 2007]
I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to get some comment from Community Board 3 about the bar explosion on Avenue B.
Appearances suggest a change in policy, resulting in an immediate deluge. Of booze, that is.
I like nothing better than to pore over the small print of CB3's SLA and Development Committee's monthly agenda. I was fully accustomed to seeing any license application along Avenue B's hot strip - 2nd to 6th Street and adjacent blocks - refused without appearance. CB3, you see, in their unelected wisdom, had deemed any new nightlife in that micro-vicinity detrimental to the neighborhood.
The predictable result was a series of indefinitely shuttered store fronts on the Avenue, as desirable Mom 'n' Pop businesses inexplicably refused to pay the market rate for East Village-extension leases. E.U. boldly carried the banner of tenacity through months of drought until they were finally able to persuade the authorities that a full-service restaurant should be allowed to serve something stronger than Gatorade.
Then - what happened? Over the last month or so, a flurry of construction, and now bars - or, oh yes, "restaurants" - springing up like daisies. And a new heading in the Committee agenda: "Applications Within Resolution Areas". So license applications for the B strip - and for Ludlow Street - are being heard again, and apparently granted.
Let's harvest the results. Walking downtown from 5th Street, long-time veggie-vegan diner Kate's Joint has hoisted a sign of the times.
Now Kate's (formerly Kate's Korner) always had a liquor license, and even a bar, but it was primarily an open and airy pair of rooms where remarkably convincing meat-free "Big Macs" and fake-egg omelettes were served incredibly slowly to loyal regulars. A few months back, Kate simply cut itself in half, the room on the corner converted into a straightforward pub. Sure you order from the menu, but it's a dark sports wood bar. Yes, in case you didn't realise, that's bar, as in BAR. As the sign says.
I am not trying to provide an exhaustive directory of eating and drinking options on and just off this strip; that would be a lengthy list indeed. Just note the enticingly named No. 1 Chinese, still selling expensive and not very good Chinese food the other side of 4th Street. It still has a bar scene, albeit less hectic than it once was.
Around the corner, of course, the capacious premises, long bar and open kitchen of European Union, for months denied a license, and even prohibited from allowing BYO. The local police envoked a rarely enforced law which prohibits establishments of a certain size from letting diners open their own bottles. E.U. has the hard stuff now, and is packed nightly.
On the left, as you pass from 4th to 3rd, next to red sauce stayer Max, Le Souk offers middle eastern food upstairs; in the basement, the club is the epicenter of the late night activity which has had the Community Board focussed on "quality of life" issues. Despite the many complaints about Le Souk, the owners painlessly acquired a license for Carne Vale, their busy churrascaria across the road.
On the same block, Russo is the second of two new pizza joints which opened recently.
Solo Pizza, a block down, sells slices as well as pies, and other than a couple of counters, anticipates mainly take-out trade. It's has an application pending for a beer and wine license. Russo opened more recently, similar license in hand, and already has a young crowd standing two or three deep at its long, not to say pub-like, bar.
It offers pies, not slices, served on stands, around $16 for eighteen inches, extra for extra toppings. The menu also encompasses anitpasti, salads, veal and chicken dishes and plenty of pasta.
Another newcomer is the tiny Cuban, Café Cortadito, tucked into a space which used to house an espresso bar, on 3rd Street east of B.
It serves an inexpensive menu of empanadas, Cuban sandwiches, ropas viejasi and the like, and has been pretty much full since day one. Stepping across 3rd, you find the corner diner B3 somewhat overshadowed by Cantina, another Cuban-themed eatery (we have Cafecito on Avenue C too, remember), this one associated with a name chef, Jason Peroni (ex-Porchetta).
Last time I looked in, the cute bar was barren - license pending again. It's a nice, cozy space - as it was when it was called General Store - but the only sign is this neon-pink effort in the window.
There's a menu of "small plates" - here known as pinchos - as well as meaty main dishes, braised pig, chicken, oxtail. Pork shoulder with that intensely sweet reduction of condensed milk known as dulce de leche, certainly sounds nuevo.
Other side, adjacent to Croxley Ales, which has been luring sports fans with ridiculous "wings" offers for a few years now (you know, eat two hundred and we pay you) , an utterly nameless dark wood facade conceals Zaitzeff.
This is sibling to the same family's eponymous financial district outlet for their organic burgers served on English muffins. The menu here too consists of burgers, sandwiches, salads and a breakfast/brunch. The room is hybrid: it looks, believe it or not, like a pub, albeit it a well lit one. It has a long, full-service bar, and a cocktail list. The bar is dark wood, but walls and tiled floor are white, and the paintings (by the owner, I believe) positively glow.
The prices are high for the neighborhood, the smallest burger - ground sirloin patty on a muffin - sets you back $9.50 before you even think about fries. Options range up to an ambitiously priced "Kobe" burger (I bet it's American Wagyu) at $16. Burger prices are much lower, and the beasts come fully garnished, at Croxley's.
Then there's Midway, a big live music lounge, and you're just a step from Il Bagatto, and someone will surely take over the EVILlage cocktail lounge soon, and...
Hey, I've hardly scratched the surface. Remember, we just walked three blocks. This is just to show that the dam has burst, and the misguided Community Board 3 policy has, for whatever reason, given way to the simple demand of visitors, and locals, to eat, drink and have fun.
The lights are going on again...
Good old unelected CB3 has a web-presence right here. Ask them, maybe they'll tell you.