MANHATTAN – Two Community Board 8 Members with a history of giving a hard time to restaurants and bars seeking recommendations for liquor licenses from the board’s Street Life committee, nearly derailed the upcoming reopening of a legendary Upper East Side dive bar, The Subway Inn.
As Upper East Site first reported, The Subway Inn is set to move roughly 150 feet to the north, after closing its previous location at the corner of East 60th Street and Second Avenue last April.
On Tuesday night, the bar’s owner and a lawyer representing the business nearly hit a massive roadblock during the Street Life committee that could have kept the 85-year-old Upper East Side institution closed for months to come.
First, committee member Loraine Brown, who goes by Mrs. Brown during the Community Board meetings, chimed in with concerns about The Subway Inn’s closing time— confused over the time the bar’s kitchen closes and the time the bar itself closes.
Next, Mrs. Brown questioned whether security should be present at night and later noted the bar’s food-to-alcohol sales ratio seemed low to her.
The Subway Inn’s owner quickly chimed in to nip that in the bud.
“We’ve had a security guard since day one on the corner of East 60th and Second Avenue,” said Steven Salinas.
“The reason you never saw him is because he’s really quiet and maintains order,” Salinas explained.
“[The Security guard] monitors everything that’s in front of them. Any gatherings that are there, he pushes them back inside.”
After getting her questions answered and hearing a recommendation from a fellow board member, Mrs. Brown unenthusiastically said she would support their application.
Later, Community Board 8 member Marco Tamayo, who frequently takes a hostile line of questioning with restauranteurs during these meetings, raised objections over a technicality.
Tamayo, who unsuccessfully ran for City Council last year, claimed the bar was in violation of the ‘Open Meeting Law’ requiring fliers being posted near the business notifying the public there was a community board meeting about the liquor license, so they could participate.
The Subway Inn’s lawyer, Ellen Lee, apologized and asked to move forward anyway given the bars longstanding tenure on the block.
“This applicant is an existing whose existing business who’s been there for years and we’re merely moving within the same block,” Lee said.
“We’re not we’re not an outsider coming in opening a brand new establishment,” she added.
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Mr. Tamayo wasn’t having it.
“We are not in compliance with the law,” he said.
“And that’s my main concern. And this is not only in this committee, it’s all committees, many fellow communities right here. They raise the issue and I think that’s my concern. Nothing against the business.”
Another committee member, Judith Schneider, the same one who had vouched for The Subway Inn earlier with Mrs. Brown, then made a reasonable suggestion to alleviate Marco’s concerns.
“Why don’t we vote on this, have them post [the meeting notice] for next Wednesday, when it’ll be voted on at the full board,” said Schneider.
“And if there are any members of the community that want to speak in the public session… they can do so in the public session.
Marco Tamayo again wasn’t having it.
“If we do this with this, we have to do with everybody. Are we willing to change the regulations with everybody?” he asked.
Tamayo then pushed to delay the committee vote until next month— which would in turn jeopardize the renewal of The Subway Inn’s liquor license– which their lawyer said was set to expire in August.
“Marco has an excellent point,” Mrs. Brown jumps in.
“We would create a precedent and it’s most unfortunate that this was an oversight or you did not reach out to the district office for guidance in this regard. So I strongly feel that we need to hold it over to the next month so that you can do the proper posting.”
Judith Schneider, the voice of common sense and the true spirit of community, spoke up again in favor of The Subway Inn.
“I think we’re being very tough on these people,” she said.
“They’re moving 150 feet down the block. I mean, it’s not as if it’s a new establishment and the community doesn’t know them and doesn’t patronize them and know who they are,” Schneider explained.
“We don’t have a ton of complaints. We don’t have any complaints about them, as far as I know.”
The Subway Inn promised to post the fliers Wednesday, so they would be up for a week, and ultimately the liquor license recommendation would sail through the committee despite the tense moments brought on by the two Community Board Members.
Ultimately, Marco Tamayo would abstain from voting while Mrs. Brown would vote no on the application.
This is not the first time the duo have derailed Street Life Committee meetings, objecting to late night hours for bars and restaurants which operated at those same hours for years when different businesses occupied the space.
When the owners of Biddy’s Pub and DTUT went before the committee last April to seek a liquor license recommendation for a new bar at 1664 First Avenue, Mrs. Brown objected to the new bar staying open until 2 am Sunday through Thursday and 4:00 am on Friday and Saturday, despite the fact they’d be closing earlier than the prior licensed tenant five nights a week.
“With an 80/20 [percent] drink-food ratio, I have a problem with those hours,” said Mrs. Brown.
The East End Bar and Grill, which previously occupied the storefront on First Avenue between East 86th and 87th Streets, was open until 4:00 am every night.
“I can’t support this application just based on the hours,” she added.
When the owners of Meller’s Spots Hub and Grill— which took over the space that served as the home for Rathbones Pub for 49 years before it closed in February 2021— went before the Street Life committee just four months after Rathbones closed, Mrs. Brown again objected to the late night hours.
“As you know, my other concern are the hours 4:00 am daily,” Mrs. Brown said at the time.
Meanwhile, Mr. Tamayo’s hostility during meetings has been previously been reported by Upper East Site.
Last February, a committee meeting turned fiery when Marco Tamayo began accusing an applicant— the owner of Portable Provisions and her lawyer— of misleading the committee over whether the planned restaurant would really be a catering hall.
”Don’t make a definition for yourself in convenience to serve your client,” Mr. Tamayo scolded Portable Provision’s— accusing him of trying to get around the mid-block building’s zoning which would prohibit a catering hall.
Tamayo even went as far as to compare Portable Provisions’ new restaurant to a catering hall at a large church on East 64th Street and one planned inside the controversial Blood Center tower
The clearly frustrated owner, Kat Alexander, told the committee at the time “I just feel like Marco is trying to kick me while I’m down and I don’t understand why.”
In each of these cases, the Street Life Committee and later the full board voted to issue the liquor license recommendations despite the questionable objections of Mr. Tamayo and Mrs. Brown.