CB2 Approves River Cafe Cabaret License

Last night, a CB2 committee approved a cabaret license for Dumbo’s River Cafe without much of a battle in a 6-1 vote.

The swank eatery, which earned its first Michelin Star this year, was revealed by the Post this week to only pay $5,536 a month in rent, while the restaurant’s tasting menu is $125 a person.

Owner Michael “Buzzy” O’Keeffe, who also operates Pershing Square and Water Grill, has a lease from the city through 2025. A lawyer for the restaurant said last night that the cabaret license, which allows patrons to dance, was intended to bring a “supper club” ambiance to the restaurant, allowing late diners to dance after the final dinners were served for the night. Although no one showed up to oppose the plan, one board member was concerned that if a family member inherited the restaurant, they might turn the space into a nightclub. The representative joked, “If you want us to stipulate that we won’t play hip hop, we’ll do that.”

The board took him a little too seriously. Just before voting, the committee added a stipulation to the license that the restaurant must “maintain the intent of the license.” Basically, the only dancing happening at the restaurant will be the ballroom kind.

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  • nabeguy

    They better not allow pogo-ing. The place might sink.

  • bklyn20

    The important thing to note here is that River Cafe is located wholly within the boundaries of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Being in the park area will, overall, be greatly beneficial to them. Like all businesses located in NYC park spaces, TRC (sorry, must get done blogging soon) should be paying the standard 10% of gross revenues into the park – aka our public land.

    What is TRC paying now? Will added revenue from this cabaret be added into the 10% they should be paying? Near neighbors of the River Cafe and the greater community should be very much aware of all these questions.

    In case you were about to bring it up, please spare us the arguments about “Dumbo Pioneers.” Mr O’Keefe operates a splendid restaurant (along with his other businesses) and has enjoyed a VERY preferential rent of c. $1,000/month for decades. The new rent — c. $5,500/month
    I believe — still constitutes a very preferential rent for TRC.

    I am quite well-acquainted with people in the Fulton Ferry District who have owned and lived there since the mid-to late 1970s. None of them got breaks on their property taxes because they were pioneers. When the area began to thrive and became more, well, “gentrified,” their taxes went up just like everyone else’s.

    The new restaurant planned for Pier 6 at Atlantic Avenue will have to kick revenue into Brooklyn Bridge Park. The River Cafe should be held to the same standards.

  • Reggie

    As I understand it, TRC presently pays nothing to the park. Its lease with the city is just that, not a park concession. Both of these facts stem from TRC signing its lease decades before there was a park. I am 95% sure the issuance of a cabaret license by the Department of Consumer Affairs will not be conditioned on providing payments to the park. If the lease in the 70s was not rigorous enough, then shame on the people on “our” side of the table, but that is immaterial to the current application.

  • travy

    the cabaret license is an ongoing embarrassment for our great city. enough already…

  • bklyn20

    Even if TRC signed its lease 50 years ago (almost correct) , when the park space around it was designated, it should have then been required to put 10% of its gross receipts into the park just as other city parks concessions or businesses must do. In other parks, the money unfortunately goes into the General (slush?) Fund. For BBP, conscessions/businesses within the park footprint should be paying revenue into the park itself.

    By way of correction: I have heard that the restaurant at the end of Pier 6 will send revenues back into BBP, but I don’t know if that is definite. I certainly hope so. The current application at The River Cafe was, yes likely to be approved (and it was approved) because it’s usually a pro forma permit — if the applicant has no criminal record, etc., it’s usually approved.

    HOWEVER, it is NOT immaterial! The permit was/is a chance to put TRC’s feet to the fire and require them to contribute financially to the park. Shame, indeed, if that hasn’t happened in the past. Why can’t it happen now and in the future?

  • nabeguy

    bklyn20, no where near 50 years ago, maybe 35 at most. Regardless, there seems to be an accepted mindset of “grandfathering” when it comes to situations like this. And Buzzy is a master at working it, like it or not. Indeed, he was a “pioneer” who created a world-reknowned restaurant on a crumbling dock, and he’s skidded by for years on that foresight. Sure, there were residential ground-breakers to the area, but he was the one that put in on the map and, ultimately, drew the attention of pols and developers to its potential. No doubt he’s made a fortune on a sweet-heart deal, but we may not be even having this discussion if it weren’t for his prescience.

  • bklyn20

    Yes, I know June 2010 will be its 34th birthday — I think that means a 1976 opening, if I’m awake enough for my math to be correct. I would actually have guessed 35. Nonetheless, I know that the Eagle Warehouse was redone around that time (co-oped in 1980), as were the other smaller apartment/coop buildings at Fulton/Furman/Everit St, commonly known as the end of Columbia Heights. Might I also mention one of my less-favorite Fulton Ferry/Dumbo
    denizens, David Walentas? The area was already being discovered when he opened shop. The discussion would still have begun, just a year or two later. That doesn’t mean Buzzy O’Keefe should ride on his “pioneer” coattails for eternity. His famous and powerful clientele has provided financial insulation for long enough.

  • epc

    I doubt he’d pursue the cabaret license if it meant any changes to the lease, which a 10% levy would. Now, when the lease is renewed, certainly designate a portion of the income from the lease to BBP.

    Is River Cafe actually, legally, within the bounds of Brooklyn Bridge Park as developed by BBPDC, and not just the conceptual park which combines the city park at Main St, the State Park (Empire Fulton Ferry) and whatever the hell Brooklyn Bridge Park ends up being (semi-private-public-park potentially ceded to the city)?

    Here’s a left field question: what county is TRC in? or the Brooklyn Bridge Park? I’m not trying to be facetious, every map I have shows New York county beginning at what appears to be the low-tide mark on the Brooklyn side of the river. It’s mostly irrelevant I guess, but TRC and much of the park would appear to be in New York County, not Kings. May make for an interesting Law & Order episode.

  • nabeguy

    Point taken, mary. I’m not giving O’Keefe a bye on contributing to the present-day development of the waterfront, just pointing out his place in building something where there was nothing. There were many other “visionaries” at that time, including my math teacher, Mrs. Barber, who made initial attempts at rehabbing the buildings at the foot of Everitt Street. As for Walentas, please don’t get me started.

  • bkre

    Once again bklyn20 is just spitting back whatever judi francis says without thinking about it. Yes, Buzzy was a pioneer and kudos to him for that, but that’s not what this is about. Buzzy has a lease in place. On what grounds could the city re-neg on that lease? All of the other restaurants that you mention who pay 10% to their parks were built AFTER the surrounding park and only have their restaurants because the parks dept owned the land and gave them a lease or license. Buzzy has an existing lease. How would you like your landlord to up your rent in the middle of your lease term? You’d sue him, wouldn’t you because it’s ILLEGAL. A cabaret license is not discretionary. It is not legal to demand more rent in return for a cabaret license. It’s as-of-right if you meet certain conditions, which TRC does. When buzzy’s lease is up (in about 7 years I think) that would be the time to try to incorporate him into the park, not now. Why don’t you and Judi Francis go learn a little bit about the law before you make stupid comments like this one.

  • Reggie

    Thanks, bkre, for saving me the trouble. Which is not to say I am keen on the whole situation, but the lease and the law are what they are. When I used the word “immaterial,” I wasn’t addressing what might be “right” or “fair” or what some people want–I was laying out the facts as they actually exist. Reality; what a concept.

  • bklyn20

    Dear Brooklyn Re (as in Realtor), I realize you have a significant conflict of interest here, as more of the already- failed housing in the park will possibly line your pockets – a delusion indeed. And it’s no wonder that you are the expert on leases.

    Enough with the tired trope on the sources of my ideas. I possess plenty of ideas of my own, and Judi does have some excellent ones herself. As I have said in earlier posts, I have been involved in park issues (as a VOLUNTEER) well before Judi was, although she was already doing plenty of other VOLUNTEERING at that time. Nobody tells me what to think, and certainly not you.

    I don’t take issue with the cabaret license — I take issue with a highly successful business getting a free ride while the people of Brooklyn and all of NYC have to pay for a “World-Class aPARKment Complex” with some fancy landscaping around it.

    Buzzy doesn’t have to pay additional rent — 10% of his gross receipts must come back into the park. I do believe that the River Cafe sits on city land — not too different from a public park in most people’s minds.

    As for the city re-negging on something — didn’t that happen in December2004 when a “park” full of housing was secretly passed into law with no public process? Riddle me that one, bkre.

  • Reggie

    The answer to the riddle is this: no housing is proposed for inside the park because no park had been created–only a concept of a park, which went from the water to Furman Street (to speak just of Piers 1-6 for convenience sake). The park boundaries were created by the general project plan, which I recall was the subject of public hearings, which in my mind constitutes a public process, however flawed.

  • bklyn20

    I do believe you have your sequencing wrong. The River Cafe was probably in place before the park idea had really started. As for the revised general project plan, as in the 2004/early 2005 plan, hearings on an ESDC project like this are not subject to ULURP (I trust you know what that means) and thus are not valid public forums; rather they are a way for the ESDC to make a show of allowing the public to display their opinions. All of this is to no effect or force whatsoever.

    A few years later, the public voice was heard in the un-election of Marty Connor to another term as State Senator.

    Yes, these public hearings were flawed, but no, they were not public. The public has no legitimate voice in the outcome of non-ULURP ESDC hearings. Nor was there any public notice of the new PILOT legislation going on in Albany, so no one could even ride a bus up there to protest. Flaws in this case are irrelevant — there was no public process whatsoever.

  • Reggie

    The fact that ESDC as it currently operates fails to take into account the testimony at public hearings does not refute that there is a public process. I know what you are saying, bklyn20, you just don’t say it very articulately.

  • bklyn20

    Gee, thanks for damning me with faint praise! Sorry if I’m not articulate enough for you, but from time to time I have to get away from the computer and get on with my life. Time to parse phrases is scarce around here. It’s easy for you to (perhaps unnecessarily) critique my words, but I will continue to try to find alternative ways to fund the park.

    Regarding The River Cafe, the original lease, with a rent of c. $1,000/month, was recently renewed. The rent was upped to $5,000 and change a month. Is the River Cafe contributing to the park now? If not, why not? That recent lease renewal was the best chance to require them to contribute — was the chance ignored by the ESDC? If it was overlooked this time, it should be changed sooner rather than later, through any means available.

    The new lease ends in 2025, providing 15 more years of zero contribution to the park, as far as anyone can tell.

    By the way, saying the useless ESDC hearings are still a public process is like telling someone charged with a crime that a jury full of his accuser’s relatives was a fair trial with a jury of his peers. It’s not a public process if the public testimony has neither weight nor value.

  • anon

    The map and boundaries of Kings County is found in the NYC Administrative Code 2-202(3), via the NYS Legislature Public Information website. This is what is says, but I’ll leave it to you to decipher if The River Cafe falls into the Kings County boundaries (I have no idea):

    The borough of Brooklyn shall consist of the territory known as
    Kings county which shall contain all that part of the city and state
    bounded on the south by the Atlantic ocean; on the west by the following
    described line: Beginning at a point on the southerly boundary of the
    state where it is intersected by the center line of the channel in the
    Lower bay; thence northerly along such center line and the center line
    of the channel of the Narrows to the westerly boundary of the state;
    thence along such boundary of the state to the boundary of the borough
    of Manhattan and county of New York; thence easterly and northerly along
    the boundary of such borough and county to a point on the center line of
    the channel in the mouth of Newtown creek where the permanent line of
    the East river if prolonged would intersect such center line; thence
    bounded on the north and on the east by the borough and county of Queens
    to a point on the United States pierhead and bulkhead line of Jamaica
    bay approved by the secretary of war on the seventeenth day of
    September, nineteen hundred twenty-five, which point is the point of
    intersection of such pierhead and bulkhead line with a line drawn from a
    point in the center of Spring creek (Old Mill creek), which point is
    south 7355.76 and east 30709.33 from the point in the triangulation
    system of the city of New York known as “Prospect Water tower” in Kings
    county and computed by rectilinear coordinates from the meridian through
    such tower, to a point on a marsh sometimes called Black Bank marsh,
    east of Pumpkin Patch channel (Big Pol channel), which latter point is
    south 37° 59′ 08″ east, a distance of l0,741.32 feet from the point in
    the center of Spring creek; thence southeasterly along such line to such
    point on the marsh, sometimes called Black Bank marsh; thence south 2°
    18′ 25″ west, a distance of 8,101.74 feet to a point on Black Wall marsh
    (Cart Wheel marsh); thence south 32° 28′ 50″ west, in range with the
    “Life Saving Station, Rockaway Point”, the coordinates of which point
    are south 37295.962 and east 28476.905 referred to the point above
    described as the Prospect Water tower, a distance of 8,050.00 feet to a
    point in the center of Beach channel; thence westerly along the center
    of Beach channel and Rockaway inlet as such channels are indicated by
    pierhead lines approved by the secretary of war, to the Atlantic ocean;
    including all the islands or parts thereof situate within the
    aforedescribed bounds.

  • Reggie

    Maybe it’s just semantics to you, twenty, but they’re not the same thing.

    anon 5:54, the county border is the bulkhead line. Anything west of the bulkhead is in New York County; east is Kings County.

  • bkre

    If you’re whole argument is based on me being a broker, then you’re going to have to go back to Judi Francis and ask her to give you a new argument. Don’t make assumptions – I’m not a broker of any kind.
    There is plenty of city land that is not a park – every city street, the airports, sewage treatment plants. Only an idiot would equate City Land with parkland.
    Also, your argument still doesn’t answer the question of how you expect to get more rent out of someone who has an EXISTING lease.
    Also – if you’re trying to convince me that you are not just a puppet for Judi Francis’ ideas then stop trying to push the ridiculous notion that BBP is a apartment development with some landscaping around it – a lie i’ve heard ms. francis spout time and time again. There are 5 residential sites clustered at the edges of an 85 acre site. Each of the piers alone is bigger than Bryant Park. Have you looked through the fence at pier 1? It’s huge! it’s clearly not just some landscaping around a condo. As soon as that pier opens and people can see for themselves how ignorant this notion is, I expect it to fade away into the ether. In 50 years everyone will talk about how great this park is, and noone will even remember that ms francis or her little minion bklyn20 even existed.

  • anon

    The point is that Judi Francis’ defense fund is done. She has alientated the public as well as original supporters by personal attacks and hysterics.. I think we all need to take a breath and stop the bashing of those that disagree with us… We need some civility here.The park is being built and we need how to get it finished in this fiscal climate.

  • Billy Reno

    Saw Ric Ocasek eating there once. It was cool.