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.