1-OAK Opens Its Doors, At Last

After months of delays and rounds of public debate, the much-anticipated opening of the exclusive restaurant 1 OAK—a witty acronym for “One of A Kind”—is at last, on the horizon.

1-OAK.

“They plan on opening in about a week and a half,” said Bruno Gioffre, 1 OAK’s attorney, in an e-mail, dated December 6.

When the quartet of Scott Sartiano and Richie Akiva—owners of Butter, a posh restaurant on Lafayette Street—along with Jeffrey Jah and Ronnie Madra, decided to open 1 OAK on West 17th Street between Ninth and Tenth avenues, the announcement caused a  stir.

There was community confusion about the nature of establishment. Would it be an elegant piano bar, a family restaurant, a classy bar, a hip lounge, or a dance club?

“The core issue was the changing face of Chelsea’s nightlife and what the restaurant would mean to a neighborhood that’s becoming dominated by housing, rather than commercial space,” said Lisa Daglian, co-chair of Community Board 4’s Business Licenses and Permits Committee.

While some in the area were concerned that the 3,500-square-feet place would house high-decibel parties until the wee hours of the night, others feared that it’d function as a sleazy cabaret.

Even though Daglian and other board members, who toured the space concluded that it wouldn’t, in fact, be a night club, the neighbors’ apprehensions about the new establishment persisted.

An additional concern surfaced at the November 13 meeting of the board’s Business Licenses and Permits Committee, where residents discussed the hours of the restaurant’s operation.

The committee arrived at a tie that evening, with four members in favor of its staying open until 4 a.m. each night, and four others in support of an earlier wrap-up at 2 a.m., between Sunday and Thursday. The 4 a.m. closing time was finally given the full board’s blessing with a 20 to 18 vote during a December 5 meeting.

Although the committee had approved 1 OAK’s liquor license about a year ago, the opening date of the $3 million venture was rolled back, partly due to the pending approval of an “alteration” application.

Under state law, licensed premises must seek the government’s permission before embarking on any kind of change in the establishment, be it expanding the area, paring down its size, or changing the location of a bar.

Much of the opposition to the new restaurant has been spearheaded by those who’ve bought apartments in a shiny, new 26-story luxury condominium complex—the Caledonia—that sits across the street.

“My concern as a resident is that 17th Street won’t be capable of handling the kind of crowd [1 OAK] is anticipating,” said Eric Zollinger, who’s a broker for the Caledonia and also recently bought an apartment in the development. “As our residential entrance to a 478-unit building falls across the street, I’m worried about traffic and safety. Noise is also an issue.”

But Allen Roskoff, who’s leaving his home of 34 years in Greenwich Village to move into the Caledonia, feels that the opponent’s action is “misguided” and betrays “elitism.” “This is not Cleveland,” Roskoff said. “Since when has New York City become an early-night city?”

Roskoff said, he thought the restaurant was “magnificently gorgeous” and argued that the Caledonia buyers should’ve known what they were getting into by picking a neighborhood known for its nightlife.

“Even if I’d decided to buy an apartment right across Roxie, it’d still be my decision,” he said. “And mind you, this place isn’t a Roxie. It’s not a club. I don’t think [the neighbors] have the right to tell a business whether or not they should be there.”

Now that it has the board’s blessing, 1 OAK’s legal team is slated to file an application with the New York State Liquor Authority to get approval for the alteration, which will allow them to shift the bar 20 feet from its current location and make the kitchen smaller, according to attorney Gioffre.

While the board will make a favorable recommendation to the authority that the application be approved, it’s asked that 1 OAK abide by certain provisos that include that: (1) it won’t apply for a cabaret license, (2) it will station two security personnel outside, (3) and it will apply for a taxi stand.

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