On Thursday night, Community Board 2 in Manhattan held the first public meeting regarding the recent sale of the historic White Horse Tavern. Opened in 1880, the White Horse is the second-oldest continuously-running bar in New York City, and over the years has been frequented by longshoremen, union workers, and literary luminaries including Jane Jacobs, James Baldwin, and Dylan Thomas (who had his last drinks there before dying).

Last week, news broke that the infamous landlord Steve Croman had reportedly bought the block, including 567 Hudson Street, where the White Horse Tavern is located, for $14 million. Croman recently spent eight months in prison after pleading guilty to both mortgage and tax fraud, and will pay $8 million to former tenants that he strong-armed into giving up their rent-controlled apartments. 17 apartments, the majority of them rent-stabilized, are currently situated above the tavern.

Eytan Sugarman, the operator behind the likes of the upscale Midtown steakhouse Hunt & Fish Club (of which Anthony Scaramucci is a partner), signed a 15-year lease for where the White Horse currently stands. Sugarman has said that he intends to keep the place as is, in spite of concerns from the community about how it might change under his domain. His attorney, Bruno V. Gioffre, Jr., would neither confirm nor deny to Gothamist that Croman is the landlord in question, but stated that Scaramucci had "no connection" to the takeover of the White Horse.

White Horse Tavern, 1975. (Photo by Edmund Vincent Gillon, courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York; 2013.3.1.613)

The State Liquor Authority Licensing Committee of Community Board No. 2, which oversees the Greenwich Village and SoHo, among other neighborhoods, helmed the meeting last night. SLA Committee Co-Chair Robert Ely called business owners and tenants looking to obtain or transfer their liquor licenses to the stand, as community members voiced both support and concern about how their respective presences meant for the neighborhood. Noted West Village resident Sarah Jessica Parker was among the onlookers.

"I have every intention of keeping this amazing institution the way it is, I have no intention of making any dramatic changes," Sugarman said on the stand. "I want to fix what needs to be fixed, I essentially took this to maintain the integrity, to preserve the White Horse Tavern," mentioning several times that the bar and restaurant needed "a little love." Ely pressed him on said changes, citing concerns from the community about how extensive those might be. Sugarman said he would fix the likes of leaky pipes and faulty air-conditioning, and cracked wise that he might move to make "a little bit of a better burger." Beyond that, he said, the interior's decor and paintings will stay as is, adding, "At the risk of sounding immodest, I’m the one that you want here."

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation recently submitted a request to landmark the interior of the White Horse Tavern (the exterior has been a protected landmark since 1969). When asked, Sugarman said he didn't have a position on the interior landmarking request yet. "I don’t necessarily think that a neon sign that says Coors Light that was put up 15 years ago is a landmark that needs to remain," he said. "I think a painting of Dylan Thomas that’s been there for 50 years does need to remain," stating that he wouldn't "make a blanket judgment that I'm going to keep every single thing the way that it is."

He was vague about whether the tavern's menu of no-nonsense pub grub would remain the same. "I intend to have a similar menu," he said. "The price points could very well change."

(Scott Lynch / Gothamist)

Local residents at the meeting questioned the building's new ownership, with one man standing up in the back and exclaiming: "Where's Steve Croman?" Others cited the lack of outreach the new proprietors had done within the community, and how the tavern may shift from the lowkey hangout and community gathering spot it's been for two centuries. "That’s what the White Horse has been to me and a lot of other people I know," said neighborhood resident Kat Georges, while on the stand. "That’s why Dylan Thomas went there: He didn’t go there because his picture was going to be on the wall 20 years from now. He went there because it was a place where you could have cheap or reasonably priced drinks and sit there for a while, and drink 18 shots and kill yourself outside the front door." Georges then read a line from Thomas's poem "On No Work of Words:" "To surrender now is to pay the expensive ogre twice."

Later, Sugarman took the stand again, saying he would do his best to keep the White Horse as close to how it currently is, but that paying rent meant it also had to be "run like a business" and that some differences were inevitable with the "changing of the guard."

The SLA licensing committee will now vote and make a recommendation (or not) before the full Community Board next Thursday. If they come to a consensus, the paperwork will then be sent to the State Liquor Authority.

Outside the church, friends and White Horse regulars Peter Carlaftes and Henry Laura worried about their friends who bartend and wait tables at the White Horse, as well as the tenants who live in the building. "I'm scared to death for them," Laura said. "The infrastructure, yeah, I’m glad that they’re keeping it. But it’s the ambiance, and what happens when you’re inside, and that’s what’s going to change." Carlaftes, who has been going to the White Horse since the 1970s, added: "Maybe we can come in and get senior discounts."

Georges told Gothamist after the meeting that she wasn't convinced that Sugarman would retain the community spirit of the place, and that her sense was that it could likely become a "go-to destination spot gastropub" with staggering prices. "The burgers, he brought that up as a funny thing," she said. "But I don’t have any confidence that I’m going to ever be able to go there ever again."