The popular restaurant is fighting its landlord and hopes to stave off eviction from its downtown home
What's a neighborhood without a neighborhood restaurant?
That's the question that Battery Park eatery P.J. Clarke's is asking in a campaign against its landlord, Brookfield Office Properties, which is undergoing a massive, $250-million dollar renovation to its Brookfield Place retail areas. It's a project that, the restaurant claims, the developer is using to try to force P.J. Clarke's out of its space.
The restaurant recently launched an online petition to keep P.J. Clarke's in its current location. The petition, which amassed 130 signatures to date, states that "Brookfield has been using construction in the building to make it almost impossible for P.J. Clarke's to succeed," and that the landlord wants to lease the space to another restaurant at a higher rate. The restaurant's lease expires in November 2020.
Online comments on the petition represent a range of supporters, from those unhappy with Brookfield's management of the ongoing renovations, to fans of the restaurant's burgers, to concerned citizens who don't approve of a large developer forcing out a city staple.
"The petition is meant to rally people who care about P.J. Clarke's but also all local community restaurants in New York City," the Clarkes' Group said in an email statement. "Our hope is that our landlord Brookfield Properties recognizes our importance to the neighborhood and works with us to mitigate the harm done by the intrusive construction to the property."
In early June, P.J. Clarke's filed a $40 million dollar lawsuit against its landlord, claiming that Brookfield is taking "deliberate and willful" steps to force the restaurant out of the Hudson River location. The legal documents state that Brookfield has asked the restaurant to relocate "several times" in order to make room for Keith McNally's Meatpacking District bistro Pastis, which is presently closed for renovations.
The documents also claim that, since construction began in October 2012, Brookfield has obscured the restaurant's entrance, parked food trucks directly outside the restaurant and erected scaffolding on the outdoor patio, obstructing views of the river and the Statue of Liberty. Accessible from the street through a temporary, labyrinthine maze erected for the construction project, P.J. Clarke's claims that it has suffered a 50 percent decline in profits since construction began.
The restaurant has two other locations in Manhattan, including its iconic, red-brick flagship on Third Avenue and 55th Street, which opened in 1884. On its webpage, the restaurant celebrates its resistance to change over the decades, noting that, even after renovations, the Third Avenue location remained mostly unaltered. The Battery Park restaurant opened in 2004, and the restaurant maintains that its presence helped transform the neighborhood into a desirable destination.
In certain respects, the restaurant does not align with the direction Brookfield Place is taking its dining options. Brookfield's recently opened Hudson Eats food court houses some of the city's more sought after eateries, including Black Seed Bagel and Umami Burger, in a sleek, modern setting, quite a contrast to P.J. Clarke's checkered tablecloths, dark mahogany bar and black-and white-tile floors. Some might say it's classic New York. Others could call it stuffy and stodgy. Brookfield plans to open six new restaurants in the facility, including Italian eatery Parm and a New York outpost for Philadelphia tapas spot Amada.
P.J. Clarke's familiar, laid-back atmosphere serves a cross-section of downtown clientele that, amidst the regular workday crowd from within Brookfield Place and the nearby Goldman Sachs building, also includes tourists and young families who live in the neighborhood. The bartender knows his customers by name, shakes hands with anyone who sits down and talks golf and music with the mostly male regulars. On a sunny day, young men in suits order chicken wings and Brooklyn Lagers and sit in the shadow of the scaffolding on the outdoor patio.
In addition to the online petition, the restaurant is handing out postcards, asking customers to write letters of support. Featuring vintage scenes from the restaurant and positioning P.J. Clarke's as Manhattan's answer to "Cheers," the postcards are addressed to Ed Hogan, director of retail leasing for Brookfield Place.
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