In the beginning of June, the team behind L.E.S. cocktail bar Black Crescent (76 Clinton Street; 212-477-1771) announced they were getting ready to reopen. A fire in the building’s electrical system had decimated the space. After five months of repair, owners Michael Reynolds, Carlos Baz, and chef Dustin Everett were preparing to move past the trauma and get on with business. Now, a season later, the doors remain shuttered and their employees are waiting to head back to work. The NYC Department of Buildings and Con Edison have yet to sign off on the restaurant’s gas.
“We are still not open, still waiting to be released from hell,” Reynolds tells the Voice.
On September 11, Reynolds says, the bar’s Limited Alteration Application — the document required to modify plumbing or gas lines — was denied. According to Reynolds, it was the second time the application had been rejected owing to issues with the bar’s fire-suppression system; in late August the DOB had asked Black Crescent to overhaul the system. The owners had complied, but two weeks after resubmitting the paperwork, they were told they needed to have it notarized. (Reynolds and Baz say the DOB had the documents for weeks before informing them of the notarization requirement. “Once you file it’s like 1984,” Baz says. “You can’t access the Ministry of Information until it comes out the other side.”) On another occasion, say the owners, their application was kicked back because they hadn’t filed it on double-sided paper. [Editor’s note: A correction ran concerning this paragraph; please see end of article.]
To help them through the process, the team has hired a company that specializes in dealing with the buildings department. Still, they’ve been rejected more than a half-dozen times, Reynolds says, adding that their hired experts are surprised at the glacial pace. “After the Second Avenue explosions, they’re being extra, extra cautious,” he says. “It’s a good thing. They [the DOB] have a lot to deal with, but this is what we’re dealing with.”
They resubmitted the application with the notarized documents early this week and expect to hear back in another week or so.
Black Crescent is not the only business to suffer from gas issues in the wake of the Second Avenue and Harlem explosions. B&H Dairy was closed for five months with similar issues. Fung Tu was forced to revamp its menu for two months after someone reported a gas smell in the building in early July. About seven days in, chef Jonathan Wu resorted to cooking on induction burners. Fung Tu’s gas was restored last week. Because Black Crescent’s water heater is fueled by gas, they don’t even have the option of opening the bar until this is resolved.
After DOB gives them the OK, they need a sign-off from Con Edison, followed by the health department.
Insurance is taking care of the majority of their expenses. What Reynolds, Baz, and Everett are most worried about are their employees. Many got jobs at other cocktail bars after the fire, at Extra Fancy and Maison Premiere, then put in their notice in time for the reopening, around Memorial Day. Aside from some rebuilding work and one-off parties, Black Crescent’s staff have been without work since early June.
Even with all the hardship and frustration, Reynolds and Baz are still grateful for all the help they’ve received. After the fire shut them down, their neighbors and much of the bar industry chipped in to help out. Ward 3, 151, Extra Fancy, Pouring Ribbons, Pianos, Pig and Khao, Mothers Ruin, and other spots donated time and resources to get Black Crescent and its employees back on their feet. “We’ve had nothing but support,” says Reynolds. “That’s why I feel bad complaining. We’re happy that people who own a restaurant or a bar who’ve had a fire are being checked. We are happy [the DOB is] being tight, but it’s too tight for small businesses.”
The Village Voice has reached out to the Department of Buildings for comment. We’ll update the story when and if we hear back.
Correction published 12/29/15: Owing to a miscommunication, the original version of this story incorrectly identified the maker of Black Crescent’s fire-suppression system. The bar uses Badger’s Range Guard equipment, not Tyco’s Ansul system.