Landmark Approval Comes for Historic Greenwich Village None Too Soon

Slane Public House, on the corner of MacDougal and Bleecker streets, recently closed. The landlord wants to replace it with a bank or retail outlet, despite Slane's financial and social success.

As a native of County Meath, Ireland, Glenda Sansone grew up a stone's throw from Slane Castle, home to an epic day-long music festival. She instilled its spirit into her own family-run establishment, hosting free, live performances by NYC's finest musical talent, many coming from various corners of the globe.

"I opened Slane because the Village was the most welcoming place for live music," says Sansone. "Unfortunately, these days, being a good tenant just isn't enough."

Rockin' in an increasingly unaffordable world.
Jeff Tuohy
Rockin' in an increasingly unaffordable world.

Historic Greenwich Village has, of course, long been internationally recognized as a beacon of bohemia, the birthplace of the East Coast beat and Off-Off-Broadway movements. Dozens of icons got their start in the scene: Jimi Hendrix, Dave Van Ronk, Barbara Streisand, Bette Midler, Simon and Garfunkel, Liza Minelli, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, The Velvet Underground, Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone. Miles Davis, Jack Kerouac, and Jackson Pollock frequented San Remo Café. Bob Dylan played his first New York City gig at Café Wha? The Godfather Part II filmed at Café Reggio, where the Italian cappuccino was introduced to America.

The public house's closing represents an issue concerning citizens and frequenters of the neighborhood: the decay of New York as a cultural mecca in exchange for commercialization. The sacred Village is losing its ethos. It's not just Slane.

Sergei Skylarenko, Ukrainian DJ and producer of electronic duo Grass is Greener, co-opened the Sullivan Room on September 12, 2001. The discrete basement club was a pioneer in the then underground techno world, featuring international DJs every weekend, earning them a slot on DJ magazine's top 100 clubs in the world.

"We were getting better and better with business in our 12 years," says Skylarenko. "We didn't go out of business; we were kicked out."

A November 13 post on the venue's Facebook about the room's abrupt shutdown has over 700 likes and 300 comments, and more than 300 patrons gathered for a candlelight vigil to say goodbye on November 22. "It was like a family," Skylarenko laments. "Authentic, organic, intimate; a place where people felt comfortable."

Why the venue was forced to close its doors remains a mystery.

"We invested a lot of money in renovation and soundproofing a few years ago," says Skylarenko. "We were in talks about renewing the lease and hoping to get at least another five years."

At the beginning of the year, the landlord stopped returning calls.

"We kept asking, 'What is going on with the lease?'" Skylarenko continues. "He began ignoring us. Then, a few weeks later, he said, 'I need you out in a month with broom-clean conditions, thank you very much.'"

After a summer and fall of leasing month-to-month, a failed renewal appeal in November left them with less than 24 hours to vacate.

"The landlord wouldn't even talk to us," Skylarenko says. "The marshal put a padlock and notice on the door. It was devastating. We only had a chance to remove 50 percent of the equipment and are not allowed to retrieve anything else. I later heard he was influenced, and I assume was paid a lot of money, by developers at 215 Sullivan Street who don't want a nightclub across the street from their high-end condos."

At 215 Sullivan Street once stood the Children's Aid Society's Philip Coltoff Center, housing a nursery school, day care, children's art classes, after-school programs, and a performance center where the New Acting Company presented shows for children and teens. The space was sold in 2012, citing the average income of a Greenwich Village family, which is double that of families in other communities that need the organization's resources.

The closing generated outcry from students' parents and locals alike who mourned the loss of an institution that enriched the social, cultural, intellectual, and creative lives of children, their families, and the community.

A representative of the site's new developer reassured the community that whatever went on the lot would be in keeping with the "neighborhood's character and style." That something turned out to be four townhomes, 16 lofts, and five penthouses.

"[The city] just wants to make things easier for the upper class, the 1 percent. That's not what this neighborhood's about. That's not what it has ever been about," says Stephen Hammond, a local hairstylist at Salon G at 229 Sullivan Street, who has worked in the area for 25 years. "Back in the day, you could have nothing, come to the Village, and still enjoy yourself. . . . The people who pay millions for a penthouse don't want the bars and clubs on their block. The little family businesses are being phased out."

A similar sentiment was shared in a Guardian editorial by Talking Heads frontman David Byrne. "Many of the wealthy don't even live here. . . . Apparently, rich folks buy the apartments, but might only stay in them a few weeks out of a year. So why should they have an incentive to maintain or improve the general health of the city? They're never here."

"It's really the city's fault," says Skylarenko. "It started with Giuliani and continued with Bloomberg. They want New York City to be conservative. That's why nightlife is moving out to Williamsburg and elsewhere."

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