At a full board meeting of Manhattan's CB2 last night, local residents locked horns over whether to approve famous dive bar Chumley's application for a liquor license. The debate came after the board's SLA Licensing Committee unanimously supported granting the license with stipulations at an October 15th meeting. But after considerable hand-wringing from some neighbors, the full board endorsed Chumley's liquor license application in a 23-8 vote.
Opened in 1922 during Greenwich Village's creative heyday, the former speakeasy hosted Beat Generation luminaries and literary bigwigs including William Faulkner and Eugene O'Neill. Chumley's went on to become a neighborhood mainstay but was forced to close its doors in 2007 after the chimney in its dining room collapsed. Since then, the ownership has applied to renew its liquor license three times, but the bar never reopened. While some neighborhood residents at last night's meeting hoped to revive the historic pub, others argued that Chumley's wasn't that great a neighbor to begin with.
"I don't know of anyone in the neighborhood who's looking forward to this," said Bedford Street resident Paul Forrest Williams, citing noise levels and anticipated "ruckus from students and tourists" as reasons to deny the license. "We're dreading it," he clarified.
Others were suspicious of Chumley's nebulous "mixed-use building" status. Friday's committee resolution stipulated that the Bedford Street establishment, which has previously operated as a bar, "will be advertised and operated as a restaurant and historic speakeasy," a grey area that some felt created loopholes for bad behavior.
"If they're operating as a restaurant, they should comply with [the rules followed by] all the other restaurants in the area," said Brian Porzack during the meeting's public session. Whereas upscale eateries like Little Owl and Snack Taverna close by 11, Chumley's will remain open until midnight during the week and 1 a.m. weekends.
"Do you really think that cleanup in the kitchen is gonna be done in a half hour?" asked Robert Black, who lives at 22 Grove Street. "Do I really have to stay up until 1 to be part of some vision of New York that doesn't exist anymore?"
Board members countered that the new hours represent a significant scaling back from Chumley's former 4 a.m. closing time.
Despite concerns raised by its neighbors, and multiple lawsuits seeking to stop its reopening, Chumley's has gathered its fair share of community support, including a letter of endorsement from the Bedford Barrow Commerce Block Association. Speaking during the public session, chef Steven Monroe Smith represented the interests of the restaurant's employees.
"I am going to speak for one small, very forgotten group, the restaurant workers, who desperately want Chumley's to stay open," he said. An online petition created by Smith currently has almost 2,000 signatures advocating for the bar's revival.
In a neighborhood where real estate prices soar ever upward, many see Chumley's not only as an affordable alternative but also as a testament to the authenticity of the neighborhood's character. In a description of his petition on change.org, Smith warns against the implications of a license denial, writing, "This is the last chance of the monied real estate interests and AstroTurf NIMBYs to block Chumley's return."
Others felt that the new Chumley's could never replicate the community hub it once was, notably Board Chair Tobi Bergman, who argued that the Chumley's of yore "no longer exists" and "will never be coming back." Bergman was one of few who voted against the renewal.
The new restaurant-bar will have 17 tables with 58 seats and one stand-up bar with 12 seats. There will be no DJs, live music, or dancing, all features the local's haunt is probably better off without.
After the meeting, Smith updated the blog on his petition's website with the news.
"We gotta get that first beer poured," he wrote.
Now, of course, the SLA still has to approve the liquor license. Jim Miller, a retired firefighter who became an investor in Chumley's almost a decade ago and is now its principle operator, did not immediately comment on the vote. A reopening date has yet to be announced.