Scoopy’s, Jan. 2, 2014
Diether’s beef with Batali: In one corner: Mario Batali, superstar restaurateur. In the other: Doris Diether, veteran Community Board 2 member and, more recently, a major new Ricky Syers marionette — “Little Doris” — in Washington Square Park. Batali frequently refers to Diether, 85, on his TV cooking show as a pain in the neck who lives across from his top-rated restaurant Babbo, at 110 Waverly Place, and is constantly complaining about him. It’s indeed true that 10 years ago, when Batali was seeking a variance to use the entire four-story building for Babbo, Diether challenged his application on the grounds that the previous eatery at the location, the Coach House, had been closed for some years, meaning the commercial use at the location shouldn’t have been grandfathered in for Batali. The uber-chef tried to argue that the Coach House was still operating when he took over the place, but the zoning maven testified otherwise. In the end, the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals granted Batali a 10-year variance allowing him to operate at the location, but that waiver expired on Dec. 12 and a temporary extension was issued. Now, Batali’s going for a renewal of the variance. Meanwhile, a few years ago, Diether discovered something else — that Batali was utilizing the residentially zoned building’s top two floors, plus the basement, for commercial office uses connected to the restaurant. She sussed this one out with some basic gumshoe work — the building’s buzzers for those floors had names for Babbo entities, not residential tenants. Also in Diether’s corner is another neighbor, Nuri Akgul, who lives on the fourth floor at 108 Waverly Place, right next to Batali’s restaurant. Akgul has his own beefs with the top chef, saying Batali’s HVAC units and fans are driving him batty with their noise and vibrations, and were supposed to have been relocated by now, but haven’t been. In fact, noise and nuisance violations, plus a stop-work order, have been issued against Batali at the Babbo location over the past nine months, and many still remain open. In March, The New York Times reported, “Mr. Akgul, 57, has compiled a list of offenses that would score well on any 311 bingo card. It includes idling limousines; an increase of noisy commercial-grade air conditioners to eight from the Coach House’s two; the moving of a loud vent to right beside Mr. Akgul’s property after neighbors behind the restaurant complained; a smelly chemical that sprays onto Mr. Akgul’s property when Babbo’s vents are hosed down to dislodge grease; Babbo’s noise-exacerbating failure to break up empty wine bottles before throwing them out; and a breach in the wall of his 1826 home that he attributes to a beam Babbo installed to hold up all those air conditioners. ‘For starters,’ quipped Mr. Akgul.” In April, C.B. 2, after reviewing the status of the variance and the required corrections, passed a resolution recommending that Batali’s waiver not be renewed. Akgul says he doesn’t want to put Babbo out of business, but just wants the ongoing noise and safety issues corrected. For her part, Diether tells us she doesn’t really care one way or the other if Babbo stays or goes. But, she stressed, “I don’t like people doing things illegally… . The restaurant was for the first two floors only. He’s using the whole building, plus the basement.” Asked about Batali’s bashing her on his show, she laughed, “Oh, really! I didn’t know I was that notorious. … I don’t listen to his radio show.” Umm…it’s actually a TV show. “I don’t hear that either,” she said. As for Batali, in response to DNAino’s question back in April, “How would you characterize the situation at Babbo?” he tweeted in response, “In progress toward peaceful resolution.” The B.S.A. will convene again on Batali’s variance-renewal request on Jan. 14.
Corey connects with Chiara on recovery: Chiara de Blasio, daughter of incoming Mayor Bill de Blasio, re-entered the spotlight last week when her father’s team released a video in which the 19-year-old explained her past struggles with drug and alcohol abuse. The video was, in itself, heartfelt and serious, but many in the media focused primarily on the political background that may have led to its creation — chiefly, the fact that journalists had been asking about Chiara’s substance abuse issues throughout her father’s recent campaign, and that the de Blasios likely wanted to tell her story on their own terms, rather than on, say, those of the New York Post or Daily News. Several days after the video’s Christmas Eve release, we had a chance — standing outside City Hall — to discuss the matter with incoming Councilmember Corey Johnson, who hasn’t been afraid to talk about his own recovery from alcohol abuse. Johnson, 31, has been sober since summer 2009, and now considers sobriety to be the “bedrock and cornerstone” of his life. The new District 3 representative told us that even though he hasn’t met Chiara de Blasio personally, he felt an immediate connection with her upon watching the video. “I thought she was being incredibly brave, to be able to speak openly about her own struggle and journey,” Johnson said. “It’s amazing that at 19 years old she has the maturity, as well as the support of her family, to do that. And she should be commended for her willingness to share her experiences in the hopes of helping other people who might be struggling.” When asked for his views on all the media coverage of the video, Johnson said he thinks nobody should even be talking politics when it comes to such stuff. “This is completely separate from politics,” the new councilmember said. “Sure, she happens to be the child of a very prominent political figure, but this is about life. This is about family. This is about someone’s journey. So this shouldn’t be looked at through a political lens.”
Vintage Spitzer: After reading in one of the dailies that “Luv Gov” Eliot Spitzer had been spotted in a Soho liquor store near where he has been wining and dining new main squeeze, Lis Smith, 31, of Thompson St., on Christmas Eve we checked in at Spring Street Wine Shop around the corner. Sure enough, Spitzer has been there, an employee admitted, as he busily rang up customers making last-minute gift purchases. He said Spitzer had bought “a bottle…a while ago,” but didn’t divulge more, wanting to protect the former pol’s privacy. But Jenny Lee, the store’s owner, tried her best to squeeze the upstanding employee for some more info, to no avail. Meanwhile, Lee is hoping Spitzer at least will start springing for a bit more vino than a bottle here or there. “A bottle?” she said incredulously. “How about a crate?” As for business on Christmas Eve, traditionally one of the store’s biggest sales days of the year, it was actually a bit slow this year, Lee observed, citing the economy. “And everyone was buying with credit cards,” she noted.
Correction: Due to an editing error, an article in last week’s issue on the New York City Housing Authority’s land-lease plan, “ ‘Kill infill, Bill,’ many are urging de Blasio on NYCHA scheme,” inverted the percentages of affordable versus market-rate housing in the plan. It should have said that under the proposed “80/20” development scheme, the new towers would contain a total of 720 affordable units, or 20 percent, of 3,600 total units.