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.
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:
- Gina at 12028-2032 Broadway (West 69th – 70th Streets)
- Bistro Cassis at 225 Columbus Avenue (West 70th – 71st Streets)
- Lenwich at 302 Columbus Avenue (West 74th Street)
- Nice-Matin at 201 West 79th Street (Amsterdam Avenue)
- Saravana Bhavan at 413 Amsterdam Avenue (West 79th – 80th Streets)
- Spice at 435 Amsterdam Avenue (West 81st Street)
- Spring Natural Kitchen at 474 Columbus Avenue (West 83rd Street)
- GETEburgers (by Good Enough to Eat) at 522 Columbus Avenue (West 85th – 86th Streets)
- Celeste at 502 Amsterdam Avenue (West 84th – 85th Streets)
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.