B’Paper: 111 Hicks Coop Rules Nix Brooklyn Heights Tea Lounge

At the end of the day, the 111 Hicks coop board’s demands upon Tea Lounge owner Jonathan Spiel were just too much to make the business work in the former Palmira’s space:

Brooklyn Paper: Tea Lounge owner Jonathan Spiel said the long-awaited Heights branch of the popular writers hangout will not open inside the St. George Tower between Pineapple and Clark streets because of disagreements regarding the lease.

“It is not happening because the landlord there — which is the coop board — made some absolutely ridiculous lease requests,” said Spiel, who claims the lease included stipulations requiring certain renovations, the hiring of a sound engineer, the installation of soundproofing, and a proviso allowing the board to terminate his lease if the coffeehouse racked up two noise complaints within a 60-day period.

“They wanted me to completely renovate that space so that should I go out of business, they would have a brand new space, perfectly renovated to rent,” he said.

Spiel adds that there may be a Tea Lounge in Brooklyn Heights, but not anytime soon.

Watch video of what Brooklyn Heights is being denied.

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  • ABC

    co-op boards. what can you say.

    and I’m sure the 111 hicks shareholders who already pay INSANE maintenance charges due mostly to bad board decisions are thrilled they wont have a paying tenant. the problem with half these boards is that it’s full of older people who have tiny mortgages so the monthly fees aren’t that big a deal. tax and spenders.

  • http://brooklynheightsblog.com Qfwfq

    Wow, those sound like some truly lunar-level crazy demands. No wonder that space has been left vacant. That can’t be good for the building’s finances.

    I always had the impression 111 Hicks Street was one of the worst-managed buildings in the neighborhood, anyone care to dispute that?

  • Bongo

    What a shame. I’d love to see something go into that space, even if it did have the strong possibility of turning into a student cafeteria. What insane demands! Considering the gym space above the bar space, it’s hard to fault Spiel’s decision.

  • Dave


  • Senor Salsa

    So depressing. Brooklyn Heights. Banks, real estate brokers and cavernous vacant store fronts. Such a letdown. I kind of wish some skate punks would break in to that space and make some real noise.

  • The Where

    I’m sure our soon to be crowned City Councilperson will be able to solve this problem.


  • etc

    Way to go board! Not only did you drive away a business that would soon be paying rent on a currently vacant space in a neighborhood full of vacant commercial spaces, you’ve now signaled to other potential tenants that they’d better look elsewhere unless they want to deal with an unreasonable and problematic landlord who will seek to terminate their lease at the drop of a hat. Bravo!

  • andy

    I’m sad. With all the closings of the other Tea Lounges, not quite sure this would be a viable pating tenant for long. However, not all of the board members are older people with tiny mortgages. It isn’t easy to run a building like this. The demands by the board, if true, seem excessive, but we deal with many, many issues stemming from the health club and the dorms next door. Guess they were just rying to get the most for the space. The building got burned by Palmira’s and the student dorms next door; would I like to have a restaurant there? Of course! But it hasn’t been a viable one since the Heights Cafe was there, long long, ago (no relation to the one on Montague St). We still have had plenty of sales in the building; maybe brokers should tell their clients to be realistic for once!

  • No One of Consequence

    Oh, I don’t think it’s so unreasonable to protect the noise level for residents within your own property when the tenant is proposing live music on a regular basis.

    If you’ve ever lived above/near a bar you might appreciate this.

    The space has been vacant so long that I’m sure the co-op has gotten used to not having the income and made adjustments accordingly, rather than to bank on the prospect of future rent.

    @ABC, your comment mixture implies that 111 Hicks is full of older people with tiny mortgages, which may have been the case at one time, but I do believe the demographic has shifted. Tax and spenders?

    @etc, Do you know anything about commercial RE?

    Before I get flamed, I must say that I am NOT on the board of 111 Hicks. I just think that the comments here are typically shallow and fail to grasp the simple concept of protecting one’s interests in lieu of some greater good.

  • Bagley

    As a shareholder at 111 Hicks, I have to say I’m disappointed. I would have loved to have the Tea Lounge in our building and was looking forward to it. That aside, our current board is very conservative and balances long term risk against short term profit. Over the last year they’ve upgraded systems that have been decades over due and are looking to put the building on more firm financial footing. I don’t know any of the background to the lease negotiations, but I tend to think they made a decision that took a lot more in to consideration than what the article describes.

  • Monty

    Noise is certainly a valid concern, but invalidating a lease based on such a low threshold is kinda preposterous. The owner stands to lose a fortune. Enforcing some sort of reasonable monetary penalty would have had the desired effect without driving away a tenant. I’m also assuming that Sweet Melissa is never coming. Can residents enforce some sort of reverse eminent domain to force landlords to rent to someone?

  • Monty

    FYI, as a consolation prize, we now have a snake oil store: http://www.brownstoner.com/brownstoner/archives/2009/10/streetlevel_new_58.php

  • Adam G

    Damn. I was looking forward to there being a Tea Lounge close to home.

  • ABC

    my comment implies just what it said: the BOARD is full of older people with low/no mortgages and/or people who have no intention of having to sell an apartment in the next 5 years.

  • No One of Consequence

    So do you live in 111 Hicks?
    Old is relative/subjective.
    Isn’t it better to have board members who intend to stay in the building long term?

  • andy

    But ABC, you are incorrect

  • Bagley

    ABC- I don’t really understand your point because everyone pays maintenance so everyone gains if it’s reduced, though I’m not sure a tenant in that place would really make any difference to our monthly maintenance bills. Even if it did, it would be minimal in the grand scheme of things.
    I’m upset about this too, but since I know that the board has to regularly make tough decisions, I tend to trust that they are acting in our best interest. This may not necessarily coincide with the best interest of the neighborhood, but right now I’m not sure if that’s a luxury we can indulge.

  • ABC

    I think it’s best when you have a board that reflects the building as a whole and the interests of a variety of residents. I don’t live there. I feel for the shareholders. I looked at the building some years ago and reading those minutes was eye opening. So many huge expenses to “fix” past mistakes that then had to be fixed again. They say they’re looking at a long-term strategy because nobody can argue against that, but then they make more of these crazy decisions. I know several shareholders, one of whom wanted to run for the board and submitted his name only to be told he hadn’t lived there long enough to be on the board. Later he learned there was no such min. residency requirement.

    Sure, I can see how noise is an issue, but this is the Tea Lounge not CBGBs.

  • Bagley

    ABC-Yes, I think that having a diverse board is a good idea too. I’m not even sure what that would look like in our building, but I tend to like the idea of having people who are invested (in every sense) and have lived there more than a year or two.
    I’m always a little perplexed when people talk about the finances of our building. Very few people can read financial statements and balance sheets and know what they are looking at, and so it always makes me wonder when posters say a decision is “crazy” or that a building is on the wrong course financially.

  • Bagley

    ABC-Yes, I think that having a diverse board is a good idea too. I’m not even sure what that would look like in our building, but I tend to like the idea of having people who are invested (in every sense) and have lived there more than a year or two.
    I’m always a little perplexed when people talk about the finances of our building. Very few people can read financial statements and balance sheets and know what they are looking at, and so it always makes me wonder when posters say a decision is “crazy” or that a building is on the wrong financial course.

  • etc

    No One of Consequence – actually, I do. I also know what it is like to live near a bar with live music and I know what it is like to own a co-op apartment in Brooklyn Heights. What is your point?

    I understand the need to regulate noise levels in a residential area but a provision terminating a lease for two noise complaints within a 60-day period is an unreasonable standard for a business that provides live music during evening hours, especially since it is a standard that is subject to abuse. It provides the business with no protection from a disgruntled neighbor (you know who you are) who can put them out of business with one unfounded call per month to 311. Existing noise codes in NYC – which are among the toughest in the nation – already prohibit sound from commercial music establishments such as bars, clubs and cabarets, louder than 42 decibels as measured in a residence or more than 7 decibels over the ambient sound level (as measured on the street 15 feet from the source) between 10pm and 7am. Violations of these noise codes result in fines for a first offense from $3,200 to $8,000.

  • ABC

    I think more people can read balance sheets than you realize. Especially in Brooklyn Heights! Good grief, that is not an assumption I’d make.

    And while I think everyone has a right to vote for a board member based on whatever criteria they want, I think making up rules is a problem. Also, he had lived there more than “a year or two”.

    But anyway, do you think 111 is on a healthy financial course? I’m sure your info is more up to date than my own. I do know one person who was counseled not to buy there back in February when their attorney looked thru the latest financials. Those I didn’t see with my own eyes.

  • bklynborn

    I thought it was strange when Jonathan Spiel was posting on this blog months back like it was a done deal with 111 Hicks. I find him spouting off again kind of questionable. He’s closed at least two of the Tea Lounges in the last year. Don’t you think maybe, just maybe, there’s more to the story than just his one-sided rant? I know people are anxious to have a decent place to hang out move into the neighborhood, but it doesn’t seem as though with his kind of track record, the Tea Lounge was here to stay. I don’t know what the 111 Hicks Bd’s requirements were, but I don’t find Spiel particularly credible.

  • bagley

    ABC–I’m not trying to pick a fight with you at all, but if anything, this last year has shown us that even the most brilliant people in the world have no idea what they’re talking about when they talk about finance. I’m not assuming that you don’t, it’s just that most people don’t. I can’t imagine why an attorney would counsel someone not to buy in our building. Honestly, I can’t. I’m a lawyer, both my parents are lawyers, my grandfather was a lawyer, etc. And yes, I probably have seen more recent financial info than you have. And I am happy that my board is super conservative. Like I said, I’m sorry this isn’t happening. Truly.

  • bagley

    Bklynborn-I meant to thank you for not jumping to conclusions in your post. The article was a bit one-sided.

  • rubydoo

    maybe another pet supplies store is more their speed

  • jiker

    i agree with senor salsa. bring in some goth/skater punks into all the empty spaces to liven up the hood.

  • 111 Hick Board

    YES!!! We win!


  • ABC

    bagley, you and I can agree or disagree that some Wall St types may be idiots or gamblers or even criminals, but the statement I was objecting to was that “very few” people can read a financial statement. I suspect even the CEO of AIG can read a financial statement. And co-op corporation statements tend to be pretty straight forward.

    I hire lawyers for their counsel. Maybe that’s not what you — or your parents or your grandparents — do, but I’m not alone. Look at brownstoner.com or streeteasy.com and you’ll hear similar stories. In this economy especially, the lower cost of entry and higher carrying costs is NOT a conservative position no matter what line people are feeding you.

    I understand that Tea Lounge isn’t for everyone, but he seems to be a pretty smart business guy. When the rent gets too high, he pays up and moves on. Sounds preferable to me that a Palmiri’s situation where a guy sinks all his money into a restaurant and when it fails — like most do — he refuses to give up, stops paying rent, and needs to lawsuit to get him out of there. Can’t imagine why they’d make that deal and not this one.

  • Adam

    This just reminds me why I left Brooklyn Heights and would not recommend it to anyone unless they are truly looking for the true yuppy NYC experience. The entire neighborhood should just be airlifted and dropped in Westchester.