CB1 Committee Says 'No' to Martinis with Breakfast at Denny's

At a Community Board 1 committee meeting, Gurbox Marwah, left, defends proposed hours to begin serving alcohol at his new Denny's, now under construction at 150 Nassau St. At right, in doorway, are residents who live near the establishment, to open in May. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Feb. 19, 2014

The owners of New York City's first Denny's restaurant had been envisioning bright-and-early drinkers among its sausage-and-eggs diners when it opens at 150 Nassau St. in May.

Then they went before Community Board 1's Seaport/Civic Center committee Tuesday evening, with an application to begin serving liquor at 8 a.m. on Saturdays, 10 a.m. on weekdays, and met a roomful of resistance.

"I'm just trying to figure out who needs to drink at 10 a.m. next to an elementary school and Pace University," said John Street resident Sarah Elbatanouny, referring to the university across the street and the Spruce Street School nearby.  "I don't know why we need this in our community."

"The kind of person who wants to have a drink before noon is not the kind of person I want in front of my building. Or in my neighborhood," said a man who lives across the street at 140 Nassau Street.

"You're hearing very strongly that there is a significant concern for something that seems to be associated with breakfast," Marco Pasanella, co-chair of the committee, told the restaurant's owner, Gurbox "Ray" Marwah. "And no business person I know is drinking at breakfast."

Marwah, who is adding this franchise to his chain of 23 Denny's, argued that it was the food, not the alcohol, that he is promoting. "Liquor is just an amenity, a side dish," he said.

"There will be folks in the Financial District, whether they're entertaining their clients, or they just want to have a little snack and a refresher," Marwah said, "so we need them to be served."

The committee voted unanimously to approve the license, but only if Denny's begins its alcohol service later:  11 a.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. on Saturday and noon on Sunday. The restaurant would be required to stop serving alcohol at midnight every night and close at 1 a.m. (Marwah said after the meeting that he would abide by the stipulations when he takes his application to the State Liquor Authority.)

If affirmed by the full community board on Feb. 25, the committee's resolution brings an end to a conflict over Denny's plans that began nearly a year ago. Upstairs neighbors in the 124-unit landmark building had envisioned an onslaught of drunken students and other rowdies spilling out of what had been proposed as a 24-hour establishment serving alcohol until 4 a.m.

The condo board of 150 Nassau Street launched a $10-million lawsuit against Denny's, claiming a variety of potential problems, only to drop it in return for an agreement to stop serving alcohol at midnight, which had been a key point of contention.

"There was litigation, there were problems and we were not the best of friends," said Richard Rosen, Marwah's lawyer. "We spent a lot of time working all of this out and so when we say you can’t place an order after midnight, that wasn't just something that dropped from a tree. That was a heavily negotiated issue."

Not everyone came away pleased with the outcome. Among them was Marc Donnenfeld, representing 140 Nassau Street, who said his board opposes a liquor license for Denny's "completely." And Mary Jo O'Grady, Pace University's dean of students, said she worried that the school's underage students would end up drinking there, despite the restaurant's efforts to check IDs.

"Whatever time it opens," said O'Grady. "I still think it’s too early, period."