Il Bastardo’s Past Casts Long Shadow on New Liquor License Applicant | chelseanow.com

Il Bastardo’s Past Casts Long Shadow on New Liquor License Applicant

Attorney Martin P. Mehler with chef/nutritionist and Food Network personality Kristin Sollenne (holding her infant child). Photo by Winnie McCroy.

BY WINNIE McCROY | Still nursing a hangover from years of living alongside a business whose boozy weekend brunches saw drunken revelers pour themselves out of its doors and onto nearby sidewalks (and streets, and curbs), a sizable and sober contingent of local residents gathered for Community Board 4’s Business Licenses & Permits (BLP) Committee meeting. Many of those in attendance were there to urge the BLP not to grant a new on-premise liquor license to an applicant seeking to open up business at 191-195 Seventh Ave. — location of the former Il Bastardo restaurant (near the corner of W. 21st St.).

“I don’t want to rehash the history of Il Bastardo, but I was at the last SLA [State Liquor Authority] meeting and they were not happy,” said BLP Co-Chair Frank M. Holozubiec at the Tues., July 11 proceedings. “They let them off with a big fine but were not happy with them. It’s a highly troubled location.”

With mounting fines and cases before the SLA — including a revoked liquor license — the establishment recently chose to close up shop. But when concerned community members noted that the incoming operator was chef, nutritionist, author, and Food Network personality Kristin Sollenne, they quickly connected the dots back to her husband, former Il Bastardo owner Robert Malta, and came out in force to reject her proposals to open two establishments in this space.

“I’m just trying to go in and make a nice community restaurant, one that you’d like to come into and have dinner,” said Sollenne, who appeared before the BLP with her attorney, Martin P. Mehler of Mehler & Buscemi.

According to her application, Sollenne (or entity to be formed) seeks to split the space and run two operations — a Mexican restaurant and an Italian restaurant — with a capacity of 316 people. She seeks to have 100 tables, 260 seats, and three stand-up bars with 40 seats, as well as a sidewalk cafe with nine tables and 36 seats. The hours of operation Sollenne seeks are 12 p.m.-12 a.m., seven days a week.

But Sollenne insisted that her husband “had no involvement” with Il Bastardo, referencing some parting of ways she said severed his relationship with the owners.

“I made my mark here for 10 years as a chef and cookbook author, and I’m looking to divide the space into two restaurants: a California coastal cuisine casual eatery on one side and a white tablecloth Italian restaurant on the other. I’m trying to build a family-friendly restaurant where you feel comfortable to sit your stroller on the side of your table,” said Sollenne, who was holding her infant child. “It is really important for me to come here and share my intentions for the space. Whatever happened at Il Bastardo wasn’t pleasant, but I assure you, that’s not happening here.”

Board members were quick to point out that Malta’s name was on the Il Bastardo liquor license, and that Sollenne had served as culinary director for three of his New York City Restaurant Group holdings, including Arte Café and Bocca di Bacco. Another noted a Facebook page advertising the restaurant’s back room for one of Sollenne’s events; she contends that she merely rented the space because it was convenient.

Others like BLP member Inga Ivchenko stuck to the legal aspects. “The 500-foot rule states that if a new place is not in the best interest of the community, or if there are three or more existing licenses which are there, they have to show how a new liquor license benefits the community,” noted Ivchenko. “I think we should hear from the public, because I don’t think it’s in their best interest.”

The public was on hand, as more than 60 people crowded the fourth floor Green Room at Yotel (W. 42nd St. & 10th Ave.) for this pre-emptive strike against what they have deemed a “bad operator.” Over the last three years, Il Bastardo garnered a reputation among residents, the SLA, and the NYPD for a litany of drunk and disorderly conduct violations as well as the occasional assault. Now that residents have seen an end to the club’s raucous weekend brunches, they are hardly eager to see a similar pattern erupt in two new locations. 

“I live across from the restaurant and understand that we don’t want to rehash their history, but it is a 300-seat restaurant that whether it is family or marital, you have ties to,” said Bob Simon. “I wish you all the best, but what happens when you can’t fill those 300 seats four nights out of the week, and start getting suggestions to do something else? It will creep back toward what it was. Plus, you still have some relationship to a full or partial owner of this facility that for the past 18 months we have sent Jesse [Bodine, CB4 District Manager] 11 pages of violations brought up against them.”

Both residents and BLP members voiced the sentiment that the location was just too big to feasibly make it as a restaurant — or even two restaurants, as the case may be.

“This place has been a major problem, and personally I would not support putting any restaurant there,” said BLP committee member Christine Berthet. “It needs to be broken into multiples, soundproofed, and then we can talk about it. In its present shape, it’s contrary to the interests of our community.”

Longtime resident Diane Nichols came out strongly against the application. “Please be aware that when Il Bastardo opened, it was known as Bocca di Bacco,” she recalled. “Il Bastardo has been a nightmare, with guests parking in front of hydrants, smoking pot, drinking, throwing up, and throwing cigarette butts in the garden [of her disabled neighbor].”

Pamela Wolff of the Chelsea West 200 Block Association was sympathetic but firm, noting, “The effect that establishment had on this street was severe for all that time, and it was in the daytime! It all had to do with these brunches and very drunken people. I understand it’s all been hashed out and I’m sorry this charming young woman is being painted with this brush, but I’m afraid she’s stuck with it.”

Numerous other community members and organizations shared similar sentiments, with only Mel Wymore, an openly transgender candidate for City Council, speaking in favor of Sollenne, saying that she was “a cherished community asset.” Wymore also expressed support for “the application for a liquor license to create a comfortable community venue.”

Because only six members of the BLP Committee attended the hearing, they did not reach quorum, and were unable to vote. But that did not impact the outcome for Sollenne, whose proposal was quickly rejected out of hand.

CB4’s Business Licenses & Permits Committee, at the July 11 meeting. Photo by Winnie McCroy.

Sollenne’s attorney suggested his client meet with local community groups on an individual basis. “We know the name Il Bastardo has to go,” Mehler said, “and we will agree to your conditions and assure you that there will be no repetition of what went on there.”

This elicited an outcry from the crowd that they didn’t want another restaurant there, with Wolff saying, “I sense the beginning of a movement to organize into a group and proactively approach the landlord to tell him what we want in this space.”

“The landlord is going to have to learn that this is not going to be another big liquor place, and he has to learn the hard way, by being closed for one year, to not rent to the wrong people,” Berthet said.

Holozubiec ended the session by saying that the BLP would allow Sollenne to reach out to community groups before attempting to file any applications, adding, “This spot has been a plague on our community for 15 years or more, and I haven’t known of any other location in this district that has been such an unremitting problem that could not be solved, regardless of ownership issues.”

The BLP Committee invited all applicants to speak at the next full board meeting of Community Board 4, to be held Wed., July 26, 6:30 p.m. at the Hudson Guild (441 W. 26th St., btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.). Arrive early to sign up for the public comment section.