Residents Persuade CB1 Committee to Refuse Liquor License to a Diner

It was a surprise that residents of 52 Thomas (also known as 200 Church) objected so vehemently to Tribeca’s Kitchen’s application for a liquor license in the northwest corner, where Kidville was. With closing hours of midnight/1 a.m. and no bar area, the gentrified diner was never going to be mistaken for the Meatpacking District, and the owners are from Gee Whiz, the diner that has been on Greenwich for 24 years. But object they did at last night’s meeting of Community Board 1’s Tribeca Committee, toting with them a petition signed by all of the building’s residents. I haven’t panties this twisted in a long time. You would have thought Tribeca’s Kitchen was a euphemism for a strip club: The phrase “the children” must have been used more than a dozen times in explaining why they thought no restaurant should be in the space; the 22 kids under 10 who live in the building will be bothered by the noise coming up through the ductwork, by the garbage pickups and deliveries in the morning, and so on. (Honestly, how do children in the Third World survive?) Plus, the area is dead at night and they’d like to keep it that way! And there are too many other liquor licenses nearby! A main factor: The building was evidently not converted (six years ago) quite as thoroughly as residents would like—indeed, they’re in litigation with the sponsor over noise, ventilation, and other issues—and the sponsor has yet to provide residents with plans on the restaurant’s ventilation. One sympathizes with that. I do wonder, however, how anyone could move into a building on an avenue in a still-developing neighborhood and be taken aback when someone dares to want to open a restaurant in the corner retail unit—which, according to what I understood last night, has been ventilated for a potential restaurant from the start.

If that was a surprise, however, what came next was a shock. The committee voted 0-6 in support of Tribeca’s Kitchen. Where was the leeway traditionally shown to restaurateurs with a good record? (See what it got George Forgeois just a half hour later—and then go to Gee Whiz and see how many little league teams the diner has sponsored over the decades.) Where was the willingness to broker a compromise? (Tribeca’s Kitchen offered to close at midnight instead of 1 a.m., but it fell on dead ears.) Where was the burning desire for affordable restaurants? What happened to the realization—it came and went—that these issues are intra-building and don’t have anything to do with whether a restaurant should serve alcohol? Since when do residents get to preemptively blackball a restaurant? Because this sets a heck of a precedent.

One last question: Did anyone realize that you don’t need a liquor license to open a late-night McDonald’s? The devil they don’t know might end being much, much worse.

Update 9/11: I heard from the folks at Tribeca’s Kitchen: “We will be reaching out to the community and the condo board to work towards a solution. As always, we will continue to support the community, and only hope that the community will not turn its back on us after more than two decades of support from us.”

Another update 9/11: I took a photo that shows the restaurant vis-a-vis the rest of the building.

52 ThomasUpdate: Comments have been turned off due to spam. To have them turned back on, email tribecacitizen@gmail.com.

26 Comments

  1. I suppose there could be some facts or rationale that’s not evident in your coverage but while one can sometimes complain about Gee Whiz’s un-diner like prices, it’s hard to challenge their track record supporting “the children”. They are a dependable sponsor for soccer & baseball leagues each year and a major donor to PS 234 auctions and they flat out donate their food & labor for school events. Seems like they’re long standing local “good guys” not some late coming nightlife scenesters looking to invade our neighborhood.

  2. I live on Duane and I was thrilled when I heard about TriBeCa Kitchen. Gee Whiz has the best record in TriBeCa as far as supporting the community. CB1 definitely got this one wrong. Do any of them happen to live in that building? The children are obviously not in any danger here. I hear Denny’s is looking for a new location or maybe a 24 hour IHop.

  3. They’re going to weep when they are looking for a place for those precious children to eat after a soccer game and realize that instead of hearty diner food and a glass of wine, their local option is a Happy Meal and a super-sized Coke. If it’s zoned for a restaurant, it’s going to be serving food. And people looking for a bite before clubbing are more likely to head for fast food than to sit down at a “kitchen” for a glass of sauvignon blanc… So many naysayers forget that they are knocking down individuals and not the whole idea.

  4. The corrupt CB1 does this all time. They harass little guys then give rubber stamps to big places for liquor licenses. The big places send favors back to the CB1.

  5. I’m not surprised at all – there are way too many up-tight parents in this neighborhood. Not everyone who lives in TriBeCa has children, so why should every childless patron be subject to a dry restaurant? I bet you all these parents unwind each night with a bottle of wine at home or at a nearby restaurant. What difference does it make if a neighborhood restaurants that supports the community serves liquor? No one comes to Church and Thomas street to get crunked.

  6. Now that ivw read your write up it seems obvious to me.
    It’s a power play against the sponsor.
    They are trying to suppress the sponsors earnings to force fixes to the building issues.

  7. I am just sick of reading all the comments and complaints about the lack of “affordable neighborhood restaurants”… what about showing the few remaining local independant businesses some support, especially the ones that contribute to the various local festivals and the auctions benefiting these same precious children every year ? or are we all just waiting for them to close and be replaced by soulless franchises or “late coming nightlife scenesters”…
    When some restaurants/clubs with a notoriously bad record applied for a liquor licence though, nobody seemed to bat an eyelash… this is absurd… it all depends on the exact location of the premises I suppose…

  8. It’s funny to hear these parents complain about noise, etc. Do they ever once consider how absolutely annoying their children are in restaurants, sidewalks, hallways, everywhere with their screaming, crying and running around? Can children be zoned out of the neighborhood? Not to mention parents’ stroller fetish and inability to maneuver them through a supermarket or sidewalk. Get over yourself, parents, no one is impressed or thinks once or twice about your kid. So stick a lollipop in their mouth so the rest of us can enjoy our knish.

  9. A few items from Tribeca’s Kitchen liquor license application that were not reported in the above blog:

    1) The space was to have 3,126 square feet and 160 seats (I haven’t counted, but I bet that’s bigger than any of the 19 other establishments that serve alcohol within 500 feet).

    2) With 160 seats serving from 6AM-1AM, I would guess that there would be 300-400 people (minimum) coming in and out per day.

    3) They also planned to apply for a sidewalk cafe license.

    4) They said no sound proofing would be needed in their application which included speakers throughout the dining area as well as a mezzanine level 7 feet below the residential units.

    5) I don’t believe the statement that the space “has been ventilated for a potential restaurant from the start” to be accurate. Tribeca’s Kitchen indicated that they may have to raise the vent on the roof by 10′ to comply with DOB regulations. Given this is a landmarked building, I’m not sure that’s possible.

    I don’t think anyone is questioning the track record of Gee Whiz in the community; they seem to be upstanding citizens. Although, it doesn’t bode well that they didn’t reach out to anyone in the building other than to drop of the CB1 meeting notices in the lobby. Given the information in their application, we are concerned about the noise level of such a large restaurant serving until 1AM. Yes, I am concerned about my daughter’s ability to sleep. I’m also concerned about the ability of the adults to sleep – I go to bed well before 1AM. There is the additional noise of garbage collection, the exhaust issues, the potential for vermin… All of these add up to quality of life issues. I feel that the community board listened to what we had to say, were very thoughtful, and made the appropriate decision. There are 58 members of the immediate community residing in this building. Isn’t part of the role of a community board to protect the community’s quality of life? They have a specific “quality of life” committee.

    It is really disheartening to read some of the hateful comments from others in the community. The residents of the building are upstanding members of the community who are on the local park boards, deeply involved with the schools, volunteering time and giving money to local causes. We are not unreasonable and said as much to the owners of Gee Whiz last night after the meeting; and, I have to concede to others’ points that the devil you know may be better than the devil you don’t…

  10. They did the Gee Whiz team the biggest favor in the world. That is a terrible location with zero foot traffic. They should be looking elsewhere anyway.

  11. Having lived in Tribeca since1979, (before Gee Whiz opened their doors) my wife and I welcomed tbeir diner like a thirsty man prays for water and they never dissapointed then or today. When I heard that they were opening a restaurant even closer to us I was ecstatic. Throughout the years I have watched as Pete and Andy went out of their ways to provide for the fast growing communiy and for the young families with children in every way. When Greenwich street was widened tbey were the first to buy a tree fence for the new trees. The larger chic upscale restaurants with liquor licenses didnt contribute a dime toward the improvement of the area. As a parent myself I respect raising a healthy well adjusted child but if every street in tribeca banned restaurants from from selling liquor which allows them to afford the ridiculous rent rates of Tribeca then put arbys in that spot. Looking at the location and recalling the size of The City Hall restaurant in exactly the same area with a liquor license I cant help but wonder how that was accomplished do tbey have silencers on their wine bottles and martinis? If the tenants dont want a quality restaurant in their buildin why dont tthey just buy out the restaurants lease? This reeks of injustice.

  12. That part of Church Street is one of the worst areas downtown and always was. The Gee Whiz guys should forget they ever thought about that awful neighborhood and the crazy people with their unruly children and come to the Seaport neighborhood. Where they are not only needed but would be welcome by all both parents and children who know what fabulous neighbors they have been to the community. Andy and Peter please point your sons in this direction. There is nothing like you over here. Don’t let this Community Board side track you. If you want to see just how dysfunctional they really are just take a walk over to this side of town, the one they have forgotten and take a look at what wonderful shape they have managed to get us into. We need people like you guys to help build up our neighborhood again. Let Church Street have Denny’s and 7 Eleven!

  13. I also attended the CB1 meeting. I have only lived in TriBeCa for four years, and haven’t dined at Gee Whiz, but it was obvious in the CB1 meeting that the family-owned and operated applicants were the real deal… The types of proprietors we want in the neighborhood. They too were surprised that there was such an backlash against their liquor application.

    I think, as Jammysod points out, that the owners in that building have had enough with the original sponsor, and are doing whatever they can to make the sponsors path very difficult, at any cost, including punishing Gee Whiz. I wish the owners had done their homework on the proposed restaurant owners as well as they did their building children count.

    This is pretty much an example of shame on everyone: landlord, owners, and CB1. I hope Gee Whiz can get this figured out and stay in our neighborhood.

  14. i agree with all’s assessment, expect for the resident of the building who cared to represent her building’s POV in this comment string.

    ‘Soft, spoiled, entitled Tribeca Parents ‘is what the rest of the city thinks of us, and shamefully, this example illustrates it fully.

    When I moved here in ’96, we lived in a one-room loft, catti-corner from the site in question and had our 2 infant children there. The vehicular traffic on Church St. alone, with construction street plates and trucks/buses made it loud in the apartment. Nonetheless, being an open loft, we made due and cordoned off a corner of the loft with curtains for a make-shift baby’s room. The babies were exposed to every single sound in the apartment and to the Church Street noise. And you know what? They got used to it. It made them heartier. They’ve been able to sleep through anything since, because we dealt with the realities and privilege of living in this great city. A city that is vibrant and alive and up all night. And we did also lament that here in this great city, there was not a place within 2 blocks that had good, easy affordable eats and a glass of wine, and in the summer, outdoor seating that parents of infant could quickly grab.

    The other night, a group of families met in Rockefeller Park to celebrate the end of summer with one last picnic. The music from the concert on Pier 25 was pumping–we could almost feel the bass from the loudspeaker from across the way. The lightshow’s lights were bouncing off the Citicorp building. Crowds roaring between song, in applause. A discussion was opened about the week’s worth of concerts there and the sound and lights. Most of us were energized by the music, energy and buzz and someone mentioned the effect it may have on the neighbors. Despite being a parent and raising 2 kids in Tribeca I thought, “Wow, THIS is why we live in this city. The excitement, the energy, the buzz.”
    If we don’t like that, and complain about the constant buzz and hum and ignore the benefits…then we move to New Jersey. Or in this building’s case, Connecticut.

  15. I have been a resident of TriBeCa since 1976. In 1976 there was no noise, no deliveries, no restaurants. Till this day, I don’t remember a restaurant being more welcomed into the neighborhood. Andy and Peter are real supporters of this neighborhood and always have been. When my daughters, now adults, attended PS234 and where allowed out for lunch one day a week, the restaurant I insisted they go to was Gee Whiz. I knew that Andy or Peter would be there and would always make sure the kids were taken care of. I saw Peter and Andy’s sons grow up into kind, successful, wonderful men. WHY would you choose to live on Church Street in TriBeCa and not consider having such a successful establishment be part of your building? Garbage trucks, vermin, deliveries??? Are you kidding me? You live in NYC! I wish they would have opened on Greenwich between Harrison and Franklin where yet again we are getting ANOTHER steakhouse . How many restaurants in TriBeCa DON’T have a liquor license? Anyone know? Sorry 52 Thomas, I am sorry to say but I don’t think you will get a better tenant.

  16. Every single person posting lives within feet of this restaurant and the large number of posts does not represent the overall wishes of the community. It is selection bias…misleading

    The Not in MY Backyard obstructionists win again

  17. this is the same group who welcomed drugs, rape, garbage, drums and constant chanting from occupy wall street into the financial district with open arms and passed a resolution supporting them. i’m pretty sure the resolution would have been very different if they had taken a park in precious tribeca

  18. Waiting for Smithers…

  19. Get Smithers on the Bat phone…now!

  20. This is such disheartening news. Andy, Peter and the entire Gee Whiz team are a responsible, kind and integral part of our neighborhood. I can’t think of a restaurant that I would rather have in my building.

    Work seems to be at a standstill at the old Mary Ann’s space. Maybe they should look into that.

  21. “Looking at the location and recalling the size of The City Hall restaurant in exactly the same area with a liquor license I can’t help but wonder how that was accomplished do they have silencers on their wine bottles and martinis?”

    City Hall restaurant is a ghost town by 9pm. Let’s compare apples to apples here. I have a feeling if a 10pm closing time was asked for, the issue wouldn’t be as heated.

    But really, it’s a terrible location for a diner – I think this is doing the Gee Wiz guys a favor. The foot traffic is minimal and look at the other food options nearby. The new Blueberry Cafe is dead – I’d be surprised if they make it. City Hall is never fully booked, and like I said is dead after the business dinner crowd. Aside from Octoberfest and some World Cup games, have you ever seen Blaue Gans booked?

  22. @JD: FYI here are the plans for this space:
    http://tribecacitizen.com/2013/04/11/cb1-tribeca-committee-the-unofficial-minutes-april/

    … surprinsingly enough, they met no opposition from CB1, even with such press…

    http://ny.eater.com/archives/2010/01/fwd_cafeterias_velvet_ropes.php

    … and this is what happened with fed up neighbors at their “sister” restaurant:

    http://ny.eater.com/archives/2008/10/gentrification_wars_neighbors.php

  23. Perhaps the restaurateurs can be convinced to cross the park and take over the space in 150 Nassau. Those residents don’t mind a restaurant—just not a 25-hour chain. Win-win!

  24. Gee whiz, guyz, what’s all the fuss about?….I use my daughter as a pawn in arguments all of the time…..
    WHAT?! You’re ventilating your restaurant? But what about my child’s adorable eyes, bionic-like ears, runny nose and strep throat?
    WHAT?! You want a liquor license? But what about my genetically-predisposed to alcoholism & bartending child and wife?
    WHAT?! You’re putting the school across town? But what about my child’s weak knees and aversion to minorities?
    WHAT?! You’re moving the NYPD horse stables? But what about my child’s fascination with the aroma of horse manure and using it as finger paint?
    WHAT?! You’re having a block party? But what about my really religious Jewish child’s need to impose her beliefs & restrictions on everyone?
    WHAT?! You want to have a quiet dinner out? But what about my child’s desire to scream and run rampant thru the aisle?
    WHAT?! You’re not going to sponsor my child’s little league team? But what about my child’s weekend plans?
    If we don’t use our children in these very obvious and selfish ways then they will never grow up to be the dysfunctional and inconsistent members of CB1 and Co-Op Boards that we so deserve.

  25. I just find it hard to believe that any parent would use the “my child” argument when trying to get their way. It just seems so childish. :)!

  26. @Bill Tsapalas
    Well Said!!! You just reminded me of how much I love this city…and most importantly, you just answered my question about how “normal” parents raise their kids in the city without having to buy extra bedrooms which would cost ridiculous amount of money as we all know…