Restaurant Updates: Popular Taco Joint Preps to Go Riverside, Controversial Lounge Gets Rejected

A rendering of Waterline Square, which will serve as home to Empellón Taqueria and Cipriani later this year.

By Alex Israel

A new outpost of a popular restaurant was approved to provide riverside tacos, the skies cleared for restaurants’ summer seating, and a lounge once frequented by a presidential hopeful got rejected during the May meeting of Community Board 7’s Business & Consumer Issues Committee.

Empellón Taqueria, a Mexican-inspired restaurant founded by chef Alex Stupak, is coming to 655 West 59th Street, between West End Avenue and the West Side Highway. You can explore the menu for the West Village location here.

At the meeting, Stupak said he hopes to open in October—but after five prior openings, believes that’s an optimistic estimate. The new three-tower luxury condominium complex where it will live, dubbed Waterline Square, will also be home to a new “Eataly-type” Cipriani restaurant and food hall, as WSR reported earlier this year.

“We are creating an entire neighborhood at Waterline Square, and having amazing culinary options is an important component of that,” said James Linsley, president of GID—the developers behind Waterline Square—in a press release. “Empellón joining us as a premier restaurant partner further cements the dynamic, well-rounded lifestyle experience that Waterline Square will provide, and signifies the important evolution of this waterfront neighborhood.” According to the release, the restaurant will span a total of 4,917 square feet of interior and exterior space. Stupak has plans to hire someone to do a “wind study” before opening to ensure that crosswinds from the Hudson River don’t create an issue for outdoor diners.

A photo from Asset’s Instagram shows the restaurant under construction.

Asset, the palindromic second restaurant by the owners of Tessa, was approved for a new unenclosed sidewalk café with 11 tables and 22 seats for their location on 329 Columbus (between 75th and 76th Streets).

The menu will be ‘New American’ with lots of small plates, house made pastas, a variety of entrees, sides, desserts, etc,” wrote Patrick Duxbury of Tessa. “We have two levels of seating with a bar on each floor. Main floor has a large bar, lounge area and seating for dining. Upstairs there will be more seating and another smaller bar. In total there will be about 170 seats if you count the bars.” They’re hoping to open in June.

Made in New York, the new pizza joint at 421 Amsterdam Avenue (on the corner of 80th Street), was also approved for an unenclosed sidewalk café.

West End Lounge, who appeared before CB7 for at least the fourth time in 12 months, did not have such luck. Their request for a renewal application to the State Liquor Authority (SLA) for a two- year liquor license at their 955 West End Avenue location was denied by the board, after much discussion.

The lounge, known for its live performances—and once a haunt of former U.S. Representative and current Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke—has a complex history regarding its method of operation. For years, they stayed open until 4 a.m.—until an appearance before the board in 2017 revealed that their method of operation in practice did not match up with the paperwork. Earlier this year, CB7 rejected an application from the West End Lounge for a change of its corporate name and operating procedures to match their practice. Instead, the board requested that the SLA strictly enforce the lounge’s current rules of operation, which only allow it to serve alcohol until midnight.

During this month’s committee meeting, residents of nearby apartment buildings reiterated complaints about vermin, garbage, and noise. “This has a long history where the community’s victims of this place have been totally ignored,” said one resident. Another said that after receiving the clear stipulations from CB7 to adhere to the hours listed on the existing license, the situation at West End Lounge “has improved, but it’s not been completely absent of music and noise after midnight.” 

When one neighbor showed the committee a photo of a sign on the front window that read ‘Late Night Kitchen Open Until 3 AM,’ Manager John Forslund stepped in to defend the institution. Despite added criticism of “negligence” from committee members, Forslund argued that because they have been enforcing the midnight last call, the words on the sign were “irrelevant.”

“This has been such a controversial application for so long,” lamented committee co-chair Linda Alexander after the public commentary. “Why haven’t these issues been addressed previously? Why are they even an issue anymore?” she asked with frustration. 

Owner Eric Fisler provided a few points of defense, explaining the security and sound-proofing measures he had already covered out of pocket, and offering up renderings for further soundproofing designs he plans to implement. “We believe we’ve made a difference,” he said. He also refuted public complaints of after-hours noise. “We have adhered to the closing at midnight,” he said, adding that the business’ “income has been ruined” by operating legally within the parameters of the existing liquor license.

Six Upper West Siders showed up to protest the renewal application, versus none in favor—a far cry in turnout from past meetings. But it was enough to deter the committee, who voted unanimously to disapprove the application.

Despite West End Lounge’s hardships, a number of renewals for sidewalk cafés passed with ease just in time for summer, including:

All committee resolutions will be up for a vote during the next full board meeting. Liquor license applications will also need to be reviewed by the SLA for final approval.

FOOD, OPEN/CLOSED | 30 comments | permalink
    1. dannyboy says:

      “We are creating an entire neighborhood at Waterline Square” said James Linsley, president of GID—the developers behind Waterline Square.

      Something wrong with the neighborhood that’s here?

      • Rob G. says:

        Huh? Did you prefer the parking lots that were there instead?

        • dannyboy says:

          I was thinking that Waterline Square was a part of the UWS, but they are free to set up their own, special neighborhood.

          • Rob G. says:

            Do you also not consider Park West Village, Lincoln Square, or Manhattan Valley part of the Upper West Side just because there are names for those areas?

    2. Sherman says:

      Waterline Square looks really cool. I like to run by it and see it’s progression.

      The restaurants and food hall will be a great addition to the neighborhood.

    3. Chas says:

      Upper Westside NIMBYs are the worst. The UWS: the training ground for future suburbanites.

    4. Noma says:

      Has anyone else noticed how the sidewalk cafes on Columbus b/w 84th and 85th have expanded? I’m convinced they take up at least another 3-4 feet. The block with Osteria Cotta, Viand, Prohibition. It’s so tight getting past there now. What gives?

      • Andrew says:

        I have noticed it as well. Believe it is partially caused by a new metal flower barrier in front of Osteria Cotta which blocks off the planter (that has stones in that could be mistaken for part of the sidewalk).

      • Tracey Tetro says:

        All of the restaurants on Columbus Ave between 85th Street down to 75th seem to be taking more and more sidewalk space each spring/summer. They keep expanding the space between tables to accommodate baby strollers. Some parents even park their strollers on the outside of their tables taking up the little sidewalk space left for pedestrians to walk.
        Is there a requirement on how wide the sidewalk needs to be for pedestrians to walk safely?

      • J says:

        Noma
        Definitely more more cafe expansion onto sidewalks – on Columbus Avenue and also Amsterdam, particularly 80th-82nd Street. And some have signage and planters further encroaching the sidewalk

    5. amon says:

      Great news about Asset. That space has been vacant forever and Tessa has set a wonderful example as a neighborhood restaurant.

      On the other hand the sidewalk cafe will take away valuable pedestrian space.

      Guess this dilemma means i’m finally a true UWSer.

    6. Wijmlet says:

      ASSET is not a palindrome

      • charlie says:

        Able was I ere I saw Elba.

      • dannyboy says:

        Correct, here’s no generally accepted term.

        The simplest way of referring to such words (e.g. lap/pal, dog/god) is probably semi-palindrome or half-palindrome.

        Some other suggestions have been made, including hetero palindrome, reversgram (or reversible anagram), and semordnilap (i.e. palindromes written backwards).

        • Skip C says:

          Asset is a palindrome of Tessa, its sister eatery. Took me a bit to figure out what the reporter meant.

          • Linda Schleider says:

            A palindrome is one thing only. Not a reversal of a word, but a word the same backwards and forwards. BOB is a palindrome. ADNIL, the name of my UBER driver tonight is NOT a palindrome for LINDA. Just as ASSET is NOT
            a palindrome for TESSA. Just saying.

          • dannyboy says:

            No. Wijmlet just explained that.

            It is spelling backwards, like Yob is
            “Boy” in reverse. It is British slang for a young man who is up to no good.

      • Debra says:

        It’s Tessa spelled backward.

      • Carnival Canticle says:

        Correct. It’s just Tessa spelled backwards. A palindrome is a word or phrase that reads the same way backward and forward.

    7. Kathleen says:

      At long last the AWFUL West End Lounge is no more. What’s disheartening is how much bloody effort the community had to put in to kill it. It’s past time for the SLA to be called on the carpet for its neglect of its responsibilities to the citizens of the City of New York!

    8. RLB says:

      I’ve watched Waterline Square rise from the foundations. I anxiously await it’s full completion! I chose a great neighborhood to move into. I look forward to all the new retail to compliment the neighborhood. I hope it doesn’t get too congested!I like the fact that I can leave B-way & all it’s congestion and head West to a calmer less congested atmosphere.

    9. AC57 says:

      Waterline Square looks absolutely stunning. I can’t wait to see it without the scaffolding and fencing. Watching it rise alongside 1 and 21 West End Avenue has been mesmerizing.

    10. Jillian says:

      So thankful West End Lounge did not get their liquor license renewed! They were SOO very loud and people would hang out front, yelling to one another right in front of residential windows so late. Ugh, so glad CB7 ruled it DONE! It’s my understanding it was never supposed to be a bar with amplified sound but got its liquor license, etc. as a coffee shop with acoustic music.

      • chuck D says:

        So, will it close down now? And if it does, what will they do with the space? Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but on an early season of “The Apprentice” I believe they held an event there. Landmark status?

      • dannyboy says:

        A long cry from the West End Bar.

        “In the 1960s, the bar was host to student activists upset about racial discrimination in the area and US foreign policy regarding Vietnam.” – Wikipedia

    11. Mikey G says:

      It’s this Waterline Square BS that people should be upset about, not a new Popeye’s…

      • dannyboy says:

        Yes, The Waterline Square intends to be segregated from the larger neighborhood, while Popeye’s adds diversity to our restaurant choices in the neighborhood.