The Fight Over a New Greek Restaurant

412-greenwichTom Galis, the owner of The Greek, would like to open another Greek restaurant two blocks south, in the new Sterling Mason condominium. At last night’s meeting of the Community Board 1 Tribeca Committee, he explained that the corner storefront would be more of a café during the day and more of a restaurant at night, serving from breakfast through to dinner. “The Greek is a full-service, upscale restaurant,” he said. “This is more of a casual experience. Less rustic chic, more country casual. More Mediterranean than Aegean.” The application states that the total size is 1,900 square feet, but there’s no basement, so only 1,650 square feet is for diners, with around 50 seats at tables and 10 seats at the bar.

He made what proved to be a tactical error in requesting closing hours of 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Even though he immediately backed down from that, explaining that he simply figured it was worth asking for late hours in case the demand ever arose, the neighboring residents never came down from the high dudgeon that the 4 a.m. inspired in them. (Around 15 showed up, with a petition signed by 180 people.) While some residents suggested hours that are in line with when other restaurants in the area close—around 11 p.m., although their liquor licenses definitely allow them to stay open later—others made it clear that they did not want a restaurant in that location in any way, shape, or form. Community Board 1’s guidelines normally allow a restaurant on a large street, such as Greenwich, to close at 1 a.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends. But the members never offered those hours to Galis. “I want to treat your restaurant like it’s on a side street,” said the chair, her reasoning being that northwest Tribeca, where she said she resides, is generally quiet, and of course a lot of children live there. (Don’t children live everywhere around here?)

Galis, who remained gracious in the face of extremely ungenerous behavior, acknowledged that the likelihood of late-night crowds was low, but he said it’s handy to have later hours for private events. The chair floated out the possibility of 12 a.m./1 a.m., with the stipulation that those hours would only be for events and that the restaurant would typically close around 11 p.m. The residents rejected it: “What we want is 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends,” said one.

If it was mid-block, I’d understand. But it’s a corner, and Greenwich Street is a commercial street; Citigroup’s headquarters is one block away. If the residents had no idea a restaurant could possibly happen there before buying in the building, I’d understand. From day one, however, the developer mentioned a restaurant on the ground floor. If it was the Buddha Bar, a Racoon Lodge spin-off, or even a 10,000-square-foot sports bar, I’d definitely understand. But Galis has owned and operated a well-regarded restaurant in northwest Tribeca for three years, with no crowd or noise problems that I’m aware of. That may have acted against him: More than once, residents alluded—an implicit threat—to how he’d need their support if he wanted his restaurants to succeed.

I have thought this before in other occasions, but never so strongly as last night: Some people want all the rewards of living in a city, without sharing any of the burdens. Opponents will always show up more than proponents at these meetings; that’s the way it is. But isn’t the committee is supposed to represent all members of the community, not simply the ones who show up? I’d wager that people in Truffles would love to have a restaurant that stayed open till midnight or even later, and that people in Independence Plaza North would welcome a new place to eat affordably. Northwest Tribeca is a special place, but should the residents be given veto power over which businesses can open there? The committee evidently thought so, repeatedly turning the discussion over to the residents to find out what they would or, more likely, would not accept.

Galis also hopes to have a sidewalk café: It would dramatically improve the economics, and it would help make the restaurant visible—that metal awning is like a permanent eclipse. Sidewalk cafés have earlier closing hours than inside the restaurant, but residents weren’t prepared to compromise. “We would oppose a sidewalk café with money, lawyers, anything we have,” raged one. They claimed that the sidewalk—which is maybe 18 feet wide—is already too crowded. That’s about when I snapped and huffed out, only to have to return to get my umbrella. (If anyone finds my dignity, please let me know.) I suppose I was as guilty of having a reaction as emotional as the ones in that room. Would it have been prudent if Galis had reached out to neighbors? Absolutely. Did he deserve the vehemence with which he was greeted? Absolutely not. We all say we want independently owned businesses to thrive—as long as they’re not too close to our homes?

If I were Tom Galis, I’d be tempted as hell to bypass CB1 and go straight to the State Liquor Authority, which would almost certainly grant him hours later than what the residents are insisting on. I got the impression he won’t do that, probably because he wouldn’t want to jeopardize the Greek. But he might bail on the project—no lease has been signed—and the next tenant might not be so cautious. There’s hope this will still happen: One of the residents said that after I left, some of them spoke with Galis and agreed to have a dialogue to try come up with a solution that works for everyone. It’s a good first step.

32 Comments

  1. These Tribeca NIMBY’s are disgusting. They pretend to be liberal, accepting, artsy on the outside, but below the surface they are really just curmudgeonly and stuck in their ways. The fact that these people can just band together and take a hardline stance when somebody is trying to be reasonable is just silly.

    The example of “Steve” earlier this week is just another example. He’s a totally harmless guy who adds some color to our increasingly boring neighborhood. Not to mention he’s been here longer than most. Come on!

    If you want the suburbs, go move to the suburbs.

    • LPC is another fiefdom as bad or worse than the community board. Don’t even get me started on that nonsense. These groups need to be moderated better, instead they are just the voice of the loudest person.

  2. Go Tom! He’s been a great neighbor and runs a great rstaurant. We’re lucky to have him. Don’t listen to the loud minority. Your place will be a success. Its legal and perfectly fine

    • The Greek has been a positive boon to our neighborhood with its great food and genuine hospitality. The numnuts at the Sterling Mason have no concept of what they are callously pushing aside and more importantly what could very well move in there instead.
      I hope reasonable minds prevail and the neighborhood benefits from the presence of a restaurant such as this.

      • So agree. I am not excited about chain restaurants coming in. I was disappointed to see Serafina taking such a big space. We need more places like Tom’s.

  3. The problem with Tom going directly to the SLA is that he had been in violation several times. He served liquor outside with no sidewalk permit. I believe he was cited twice. He also had tables outside for a year claiming he had a permit. Not only did he not have permit he had tables sprawling way passed the legal footage, blocking foot traffic.
    He has also Barbequed without permits on the sidewalk , from morning to sun down. He seems to try to get away with things thinking the neighbors will turn a blinds eye.

    • Why isn’t Tom allowed to have outdoor seating like everybody else including his Argentinian neighbor? Because of a capricious landlord? Pig roast is fantastic. Great way to improve a construction area. This is exactly why small businesses in this town suffer. Silly landlords and silly neighbors. Do ur thing Tom, we will support u

  4. Yet another example of how a great deal of money and an even larger sense of entitlement distorts ones perspective on the world. What they are doing is grossly unfair to small business owners and to the people in the neighborhood.

    If there is a petition in support of appropriate hours, I would happily sign it.

  5. If Galis is brave enough to open another restaurant down here, hooray! Wish him luck. It would be very sad indeed if Tribeca were to become a residential wasteland.

  6. The gated-community entitlement in this neighborhood is nauseating. People want gyms but not in their buildings, sidewalk cafes but not on their streets, restaurants but not delivery trucks or garbage pick-up. I never thought that I would be one of those people pining for the gritty old days but this is ridiculous. There’s no community here. It’s just a collection of people who have bought into conspicuous consumption as self-improvement. Sorry for the rant, Erik. You do great work here and I think you have really contributed to a sense of community but I fear you are fighting a losing battle.

  7. I’m confused isn’t Greenwich street full of restaurants that have outdoor seating?
    why should this be any different?
    seems to me like the residents of the fancy building above are not acknowledging that they purchased a condominium in a building which had always planned to have a restaurant on the ground floor (those retail spaces were delivered with the cooking vents in place).
    it was written in the offering plan and so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to ANY of the buyers in there. spoiled brats.

  8. Sounds like an unjustified witch-hunt. The residents do indeed come off as ridiculous, petty, selfish…and just plain mean-spirited.

    As for the Community Board meeting, are the minutes available anywhere? The CB1 site seems to no longer be updating since June….any idea why that might be?
    http://www.nyc.gov/html/mancb1/html/archives/minutes.shtml

  9. The residents need to read their Jane Jacobs; without “mixed-use” urban development, neighborhoods become inhuman dead zones: anti-social, sterile, unsafe, unwelcoming, and impractical.

  10. Wow–talk about a sense of entitlement. Can we just restrict the residents of the Sterling Mason from leaving their little bubble and infecting the neighborhood with their outlandish entitlement and chronic assholism. There are kids in Tribeca and we don’t want them to be susceptible to the show of bad behavior demonstrated by those “neighbors.” Where is that petition?

  11. there are many high end buildings in the neighborhood which have restrictions on what the ground floor can be used for. perhaps the buyers of sterling mason should have thought about that before buying in the building if it was such a concern to them.
    shame on you CB for not protecting this restaurateurs rights and the landlord’s rights.

  12. The petition touts itself as protecting residents from a “a supper club with posted closing hours of 2AM during the weekdays and 4AM on the weekends.” Sounds like the purposely used inflammatory language and didn’t back down when their supposed goal of earlier closing time was met by the business owner.

    How can you move to Greenwich Street and not expect commercial enterprise, including restaurants, in your building.
    This is NYC, move to a house in the burbs if you don’t want the hassles that come with city life.

    Also interesting that a large number of people who signed the petition did so without leaving their name – could it be that they aren’t 100% proud of their NIMBY behavior…

  13. Tom is a good guy, he is very present in his business and it is absurd that people would be that rude. I go to the greek often and it is truly a neighborhood establishment. Piss off good proprietors like him, and you’re gonna wind up with a taco bell, or something worse.
    -Chris

  14. It isn’t just noise that residents object to. Even the best restaurants bring vermin and odors (both cooking food and garbage) to a building. Residents are wise to attempt to prevent such businesses from coming into their building.

    • But they want to have restaurants elsewhere? I’ll say it again: Some people want all the rewards of living in a city, without sharing any of the burdens.

    • These residents knew a restaurant was coming into the building. Additionally, every building, including new once, have vermin and garbage.

    • How can people object to outdoor seating after Dylan did the same?

    • “residents are wise to attempt to prevent such a business from coming into their building”
      you obviously have zero education about condo rules/bylaws.
      the condo has restrictions on what can and cannot go in the retail space.
      when the developer built this building they installed venting to the roof specifically for the retail spaces. the retail spaces were sold to investors who put the properties up for rent, advertising that the space could work for a restaurant.
      the buyers knew this because when they purchased their condos their attorney’s reviewed the offering plan. this was not hidden from anyone. seems like the residents should’ve bought a condo in a building that DOESN’T allow restaurants in the ground floor because this building isn’t one of them.
      i think your comment shows how ignorant you (and the residents of this building) really are.

    • I can see that point if they bought a building in battery park city or something, but it’s Northwest Tribeca. As nice as it is, it’s one of the most heavily rat infested areas in the city.

      • Sorry lowphat rats are pervasive everywhere, including BPC. The real key is a balance of business and residential quality of life…hours and garbage and noise are all the tipping points between neighbors and nuisance. Bag the garbage, be reasonable …asking for 4am in a residential buiding is myopic.

        • I agree with everything you said. My point wasn’t that there aren’t rats everywhere in NYC. I was merely commenting to the post that mentioned vermin are brought to the buildings with restaurants… stating that this area is known for it’s rat population.

    • We’ve had a restaurant in our building for many years, and we do not have those problems. And ditto to what Erik said.

  15. One wonders, after his operating for 3+ years in Tribeca, why Mr. Galis did not know better than to ask for 2 a.m./4 a.m. closing hours (and in the face of vocal opposition, then still try to justify late hours for private events. )

    In Dec. 2012, this site reported about the Greek’s CB1 hearing, “The hours were never mentioned, which means they must not be controversial.” (http://tribecacitizen.com/2012/12/13/cb1-tribeca-commitee-the-unofficial-minutes-december/) Per the 12/19/2012 CB1 resolution, “The hours of operation of this establishment are 12:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.”

    It is one thing when operators new to CB1 ask for unusually late hours and then plead ignorance about typical CB1 closing hours. It is something else when prior applicants knowingly request later-than-normal hours. The reaction should have been no surprise.

  16. While I’d love to see the Greek open an outpost there, a part of me hopes he gets denied and 3 months later an establishment along the lines of “Bounce” or an outpost of an Upper East Side Boozy Brunch Club opens instead, complete with DJ, Velvet Ropes, Crowd, etc.

    The Greek could be one of the more respectful innocuous restaurants in Tribeca as far as noise and community impact goes. As far as restaurants go tenants should welcome such an establishment. You never know what you’re going to get when you risk it and opt for Door #2.

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