For all the readers who have called or e-mailed about the future of the proposed Cuban restaurant and salsa club Caliente — the brainchild of developer Kerry Duffin and chef Peter Castillo, scheduled to open this month in a 103-year-old building at 103 West 19th Street — I finally have an answer: hoy no, mañana sí.
On October 25, the Board of Zoning Adjustment declined to hear Duffin’s second application for a parking variance. The board upheld its July ruling; even with additional parking spots he had leased and 17 “grandfathered” spaces, Duffin’s opponents argued, the restaurant would have sucked up much of the on-street parking in the evolving neighborhood.
Duffin was visibly shaken after the decision, but a few days later, his fighting spirit returned. “We’re not dead in the water,” he said. “We’re looking at several options, including leasing more parking spaces. We’re also the poster child for changing the parking codes downtown. We’re getting a lot of support on that issue. A lot of goodwill came out of this.”
There were plenty of Kerry supporters at the hearing, but even more members of the opposing camp, such as downtown developer Suzie Aron, who said she liked the idea of a Cuban restaurant in the neighborhood, just not in that building.
“He picked the most densely populated part of the Crossroads,” Aron said. “Parking is incredibly difficult for the neighborhood tenants right now. And he wants to open a 13,000-square-foot restaurant requiring at least 77 additional parking spaces.”
Peter Castillo was fuming before the hearing even started. “We should have been open in July. The people opposing the restaurant don’t like us because we’re not part of the TIF [tax-increment financing] club. And Brad hates to lose.”
Brad — downtown developer Brad Nicholson — was painted as the número uno villain by the pro-Caliente camp. But Nicholson (who owns several Crossroads buildings, including the Pitch offices) denies that he was ever opposed to a Cuban restaurant in the Crossroads. “I love Cuban food,” he said, “and I was excited when Kerry first told me that he was opening a small restaurant. But that’s not what the real plan was. It comes down to just facts. He didn’t have enough parking. It’s really sad it turned out this way.”
Dolphin Gallery owner John O’Brien was particularly disappointed by the hearing’s outcome. “I like people to have the power to dream,” he said.
“The dream’s not over,” Duffin pointed out, “just delayed.”