Pouring sake on the side? Chelsea board says no

AROUNDDEBY WINNIE McCROY  |  Residents of Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen gathered at Roosevelt Hospital on the evening of April 1 for the monthly full board meeting of Community Board 4 where among other things, they debated the application to the State Liquor Authority for a beer and wine license by Ichiran, a new restaurant to open mid-block on W. 20th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.

“We are opposed to Ichiran, because of the board’s own policy regarding alcohol-serving establishments on side streets and all the problems that go along with that,” said William Borock, president of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations. “We don’t want C.B. 4 to approve this with stipulations, because the neighbors will suffer from all kinds of quality of life issues. We saw the family fondue restaurant, The Ainsworth, change into a sports bar, and we can see that Ichiran will want to change after they’re approved. After agreeing to close at 10:30 p.m. they came back later and tried to change it to 12 a.m. They want to serve hard liquor, and they already serve shōchū, which is 30 percent alcohol… We ask that you don’t take the lesser of two evils, but that you vote ‘no.’”

Borock was one of a half-dozen community members who spoke passionately against granting a beer and wine license to the Japanese chain ramen restaurant that has already obtained a lease at 123 W. 20th St. for their 150-seat restaurant.

“I hope that members who know the importance of keeping our residential streets residential will speak up,” urged resident Diane Nichols.

Sydney Price, owner of City Treehouse (a nature-themed children’s play center), works near the site of the new restaurant. She asserted that Ichiran “would have a huge negative impact on my business to have trash around, and have children not be able to get down the sidewalk.”

Michael Walsh said residents of his building were opposed to the business opening up next door to them, noting the early controversy over their desired 4 a.m. closing time.

“Ichiran is welcome, but they are better off on the avenue, where they can stay open late,” said Walsh.

C.B. 4 members discussed the contentious issue at length, with the majority of members agreeing that the mid-block location was less than ideal. Ultimately, they voted 27-6 to send a “deny unless” letter to the S.L.A., recommending a denial of the beer and wine license unless Ichiran maintained their 10:30 p.m. closing time; kept their patrons in an indoor waiting room rather than on the street; secured garbage pickup before 11 p.m. on weeknights and by 1 a.m. on Saturdays; and that they declined to serve the stronger sake and shōchū beverages, which are permitted under the beer and wine license.

“This is truly a classic rock and a hard place situation,” said C.B. 4’s Lisa Daglian. “It’s clearly not the best place for this, but the bottom line is that we’re stuck. It’s best to have some control over this. So now we just have to make sure they do what they say they would.”

In a separate matter, an S.L.A. approval recommendation letter was also sent for the adult entertainment club Esquire on 622 W. 47th St. Although C.B. 4 member Martin Treat exclaimed, “It looks like a whorehouse to me,” member Paul Seres spoke of a long and positive history with these responsible business owners, noting that the club “was good for this dark and dank block.

“They are good operators. They don’t want to draw any negative attention from the police and so they keep their patrons in line,” said Seres.

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