By Robin Koo
Greg Hunt, who tried to open a wine bar at 25 Central Park West last year but was stymied by opposition from litigious building residents, has now set his sites on a new neighborhood space. Hunt now wants to open his wine bar on the corner of 71st Street and Columbus Avenue, the space formerly occupied by Malaysian restaurant Penang and then left vacant for five years. Custo Barcelona, a Spanish clothing designer, owns the building but hasn’t done anything with it for years, and has let the space deteriorate — people used to slash the plastic facade with knives and print all sorts of nasty and racist graffiti on it. One man also regularly used the building as a toilet, one community board member pointed out. Custo Barcelona hasn’t responded to city officials who reached out to him, or to our email via its website.
The community board, which heard Hunt’s liquor license and sidewalk cafe application Tuesday night, wasn’t making things easy on him. He’s used to that, however.
Hunt co-founded Jerry Seinfeld-hangout Amsterdam Billiards a few decades ago; he’s a longtime Upper West Sider whose kids go to local public schools. But he stepped into a hornet’s nest last year when he tried to open a wine bar at 25 Central Park West on 63rd Street that was going to be open after midnight. The folks at 25 CPW and a few at 15 CPW (where Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and other hotshots live) lined up against the bar, and the buildings department eventually sided with the residents.
But Hunt is persistent, and he wants to turn the old Penang space into a smooth jazz kind of space, where grown-ups can sip wine and listen to Ella Fitzgerald. His working name is Tallulah.
The community board discussion was far from smooth jazz, however — it took more than an hour for the board to vote on Hunt’s cafe and liquor license applications. The liquor license passed 34-3, but Hunt’s request to keep the current sidewalk cafe was much more acrimonious; nonetheless, it passed 22-13.
For Hunt, it appears, all’s well that ends well.
“I’m grateful to the community board,” he told me afterwards. “They’re patient and worked with me and I appreciate the fervor of their opposition.”
It’s unclear when the new space will open. Hunt still needs permits, and the building is landmarked. Here’s to hoping that this ugly vacant storefront will be pumping out Billie Holiday very soon.
Check out other recent local openings and closings here.
Photos by Avi.