Story and photos by Christine Liu
In order to stand out from the plethora of coffee shops in the East Village, some cafe owners are adding beer and wine to their menus. But not all East Village residents are delighted that more establishments want to serve alcohol.
In November, The Bean, a local coffeehouse that was displaced by Starbucks in September, applied for beer and wine licenses at two of its new locations. A Community Board 3 committee voted to support a beer and wine license for The Bean’s Third Street and Second Avenue location.
“We always got some people who asked us if we carried wine and that’s what made us do it,” says Ike Escava, co-owner of The Bean. “It was also recommended to us by our current landlord who lives on the second floor. There are several restaurants on this block alone, so the street lends itself to it.”
The Bean opened its doors on Dec. 12 and is in the process of seeking approval for a liquor license.
“We did it just to add to our mix,” Escava says. “We don’t know much about it and we have never done it. We’re trying to get a feel from our customers. Our plan is to only go forward with it if customers want it.”
The Bean also applied for a beer and wine license at its not-yet-opened Ninth Street and First Avenue location but withdrew the application after encountering opposition from neighborhood residents. Escava does not rule out the possibility of obtaining a beer and wine license there if community support emerges.
The Bean’s owners seem to be responding to a larger trend. Cafes are serving beer and wine in order to bring in more customers and more revenue. Cafe Pick Me Up, on Avenue A, is just one cafe in the area already serving beer and wine.
Cafe Pick Me Up started serving wine two years ago, after competing establishments did the same. It has since expanded its menu to serve beer, as well as adding sandwiches, pastas and salads.
“Small businesses do whatever we can do to keep our customers coming back keeping them happy,” says the cafe’s manager, who would identify herself only as Kristen S.
New York State Liquor Authority fees for liquor licenses vary widely; for cafes and small restaurants they range from $1,000 to $4,000.
“I think we do quite well on the selling of wine,” Kristen S. says. “It has helped our business because it’s brought in customers who prefer a glass of wine after their coffee all day. “It’s a great thing to carry in a business since it helps bring up the revenue of the cafe. It goes great with lots of items on our menu.”
Almost 500 bars, lounges, clubs, restaurants and cafes have liquor licenses in the East Village area, according to State Liquor Authority. Some East Village residents say that’s enough.
“It’s such a culturally rich neighborhood that extends beyond the bars,” says Alex Hendrick, an East Village resident. “People don’t see that because a lot of night crawlers come to the area to drink and whatever. So when they think of East Village they automatically think of bars and alcohol.”
In the beginning Cafe Pick Me Up received a lukewarm welcome from its customers.
“At first the regular customers were iffy about it,” Kristen S. says. “We brought in new customers who appreciated it, and they would bring in their friends.”
Slowly, Cafe Pick Me Up refined its wine selection. “We have a great wine list done by one of my workers,” Kristen S. says. “He did lots of research and people love that the workers have knowledge with the wine.”
Local residents say they fear that another establishment serving alcohol will add to the neighborhood’s night-time noise pollution.
“I hate walking home with my children at 8 at night while all the party goers are out,” Mark Wright, an East Village resident, says. “I don’t want to expose my kids to that. It’s also really inconvenient at night when everyone is trying to sleep, and drunken people are screaming and cursing at each other on the streets.”
The noise pollution that East Villagers are subjected to at night is largely because of people sitting outdoors, but residents won’t have to worry about that at The Bean. Its Third Street location is an enclosed space, and the owners say its walls and ceiling are sound-proofed.
“I don’t think it hurts having more places in the neighborhood that serve alcohol,” says Steven Lim, a manager who works in the East Village. “It’s really convenient to grab drinks after work with my co-workers.”
Customers have seemed to adjust well to the change, especially college students, who enjoy a glass of wine while studying or just hanging out.
“I live in the area and don’t have any complaints toward this business model,” says Cecilia Perez, an N.Y.U. student and Think Coffee customer. “People just know that this isn’t a place to party, but to sit back and relax.”
The addition of light alcohol at The Bean gives more options to its customers, Escava says, adding: “We think it will fit in to our store and enhance our store. We definitely don’t want to change the feel of our store.”