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Debating an ‘Artisanal’ Vision for a Bar - The Local East Village Blog - NYTimes.com


Debating an ‘Artisanal’ Vision for a Bar


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Banjo Jim'sMeghan Keneally. A staple of the East Village music scene, the future of Banjo Jim’s is up for approval.

After the blogger EV Grieve reported that changes may be coming to Banjo Jim’s, a popular bluegrass bar on Avenue C, locals took to their keyboards and headed to the blog’s comments section in anguish.

The bar’s prospective owner, Robert Ceraso, told the blog that he will be presenting a plan to the State Liquor Authority Committee of Community Board 3 tonight asking that the liquor license for the bar be tranferred to he and his partners. In describing his vision for his bar, Mr. Ceraso said that he envisioned it as an “artisanal neighborhood cocktail bar.” And that did him in.

Commenters skewered his use of the word, likening it to buzzwords of trends past, and immediately branded him as one of the big bad developers swooping in to discard the East Village of old.

One commenter, Chris Flash, wrote: “Yet another cool unpretentious music venue lost on the LES, to be replaced by yet ANOTHER yuppie dive, as if Ceraso’s dive will be different from any other dive!!”

Another, Bowery Boogie, said: “Missing Banjo Jim’s already. Artisinal is one of those buzz words that makes me puke every time.”

Mr. Ceraso said that the reaction was not totally unexpected.

“I knew there was going to be some backlash,” Mr. Ceraso said in a telephone interview. “People don’t like change and they turned me into some crazy guy that wants to change the neighborhood.”

Both Mr. Ceraso and a representative from Banjo Jim’s confirm that the bar has not been sold yet. Mr. Ceraso said that he and his partners hope to win approval for a liquor license before finalizing a sale agreement with the bar’s current owner, Lisa Zwier-Croce.

Ky Hote, the webmaster at Banjo Jim’s, said that nothing has changed at the bar.

“A deal isn’t done until it’s done and right now we’re focusing on business as usual,” Mr. Hote said.

Banjo Jim'sMeghan Keneally

Ms. Zwier-Croce seems to have accepted the potential sale in spite of her emotional attachment to the music bar.

“I’m sad to let go of the business it was a really personal venture for me I opened Banjo Jim’s honoring my husband who passed away. For me it was about the live music that was my whole heart was in opening this place. But you know, it’s been tough in a couple of different ways and we need to move on and these guys are really down to earth,” said Ms. Zwier-Croce.

She said that people are understandably concerned about change, they are focusing on a trivial detail.

“People are freaking out about ‘artisanal’ cocktails. Don’t be afraid of a word!”

If the sale does go through, which both parties expect to happen, Mr. Ceraso said that he plans to alter the bar but to embrace what he feels is the beauty of the area.

“It’s a really special place because you don’t feel like you’re in the city with the two parks right there,” Mr. Ceraso said. “We’re going for an urban cottage aesthetic and we’ll open up the windows so you can see the parks. It always smells so beautiful there and we want to work off that aesthetic.”

The spot holds sentimental value for Mr. Ceraso, 37, who held his wedding reception in the park directly across from Banjo Jim’s. He was quick to point out that, while he and his wife have “homesteaded” and moved out to Jersey City since having two children, he grew up in the area; his wife is from Avenue D, and his parents used to own a clothing store called ENZ’s on St. Mark’s Place.

His partners in the venture are Tim Falzone — a friend from high school who also owns the bar White Noise on 14th Street — and Jason James. Mr. Ceraso said that he and Mr. James’ passion for food is what is driving their use of homemade (yes, East Village, he calls them “artisanal”) jams and bitters in their cocktails.

“We all want to be seasonal now, and it’s a way to use fruit that’s seasonal and local,” Mr. Ceraso said. “We’ll be doing some food behind the bar too and so that’ll be a good way to share ingredients between cocktails and food.”

Banjo Jim'sMeghan Keneally

While nothing is finalized, Mr. Ceraso is already experimenting and has developed an apricot chipotle jam, an apricot ginger jam, and a sour cherry jam.

The name is also under consideration. Their working title is James Daniel, a combination of Mr. James’ last name and Mr. Ceraso’s middle name, but they now think that might be a source of confusion with the famed bourbon. Another possibility is Willows Keep, as an homage to the trees in the neighboring parks, but there are pitfalls with that as well.

“We might go for something more ambiguous,” Mr. Ceraso said. “That seems super adult and serious and we don’t want to be that adult and serious.”