Amid Hope for Revival, Rent Is Life Cafe’s Undoing

IMG_2761Daniel Maurer Construction work on the building today.

As recently as yesterday, Kathy Kirkpatrick was holding out hope that Life Cafe would be resurrected in spite of the “For Rent” sign in the window of her iconic restaurant and a simmering dispute between her two landlords (yes, she has two).

“I’m still waiting to see how it plays out,” Ms. Kirkpatrick said. “Things are getting resolved, things are developing — though meanwhile, I wait.”

But today the dispute boiled over and Bob Perl, one of her landlords, said Life Cafe was dead — he could no longer bear trying to negotiate with Abraham Noy, the other landlord.

“I can’t get it done,” Mr. Perl said. “I’m done with Noy – these guys are just impossible.”

The restaurant’s would-be savior, Darin Rubell also backed out of taking over Life Cafe, citing the two landlords who couldn’t come to an agreement.

“Had a little bit of compromise been made it would have been a win-win-win situation for all of us involved, the neighborhood, and the future of Life Café,” Ms. Kirkpatrick said today. “It seems emotions got in the way.”

IMG_2759Daniel Maurer Today: evidence of work inside of the Life space, but the bar remained.

In the past, Ms. Kirkpatrick had blamed the sorry state of her building at Avenue B and 10th Street for forcing her to shut down her restaurant in September. But today she revealed that the move was also, in part, an effort to force her landlords into action that would spur repairs to the building and pave the way for Mr. Rubell to take over. “Everything that happened was an attempt to stir the water and create a decision — to make people take some action,” she said.

But the acrimony, which revolved around the rent for the cafe where Jonathan Larson wrote much of “Rent,” was not easily overcome.

Mr. Perl has a 900-square-foot portion of the restaurant; Mr. Noy has a 600-square-foot portion that’s smaller but primly located on the corner. That meant Ms. Kirkpatrick had two leases for one space (as if one isn’t enough of a pain).

According to Mr. Perl, Mr. Noy was charging $170 per square foot for his portion of the space, while he was charging roughly half that rate. Mr. Perl said that Mr. Noy’s asking rent would go up to $250 per square feet at the end of his lease — leaving Mr. Perl in the unenviable position of making even less relative to his counterpart.

“Because we’re sharing a tenant I’m entitled to what our space is worth on an equitable basis. We like to offer our tenants a decent rent,” he said, referring to his partners, “but what is the point if the neighboring landlord then grabs all of the benefit and more by raping the tenant?”

Phillip Kalantzis-Cope Life Cafe, during the good old days.

Mr. Noy disputed the figures Mr. Perl cited, calling them a “total misrepresentation of the truth.” He said Ms. Kirkpatrick’s rent for his corner space was more in the range of $5,000 a month, which calculates to $100 per square foot — a figure in line with rates on Avenue B.

At the moment, the asking price for Mr. Noy’s portion is $8,500 a month, according to an employee at New York Realty Exchange. Of course, that number is negotiable. “What do you do when you market a place? You throw some number out there and you negotiate from there. You can ask whatever you want,” Mr. Noy said.

To hear Mr. Noy tell it, it wasn’t the rent that led to Life losing its pulse — rather Ms. Kirkpatrick simply grew tired of running the restaurant. “She had to deal with two separate [building] managements. I guess it was exhausting. Eventually she just walked away,” he said, later adding, “If we can save Life it would be good for me, for Bob, for the block, for everybody.”

When The Local spoke to Mr. Perl at the end of last month, he indicated that he and Ms. Kirkpatrick were talking to a potential business partner who might pave the way for a reopening. That would-be partner turned out to be Darin Rubell, a bar owner and cousin of late Studio 54 impresario Steve Rubell. As early as 2008, he considered taking over the business, which he admired for being a pioneer in the neighborhood when it opened in 1981.

IMG_2752 Daniel Maurer

“It didn’t work out because there are two landlords that just can’t see eye to eye with each other,” Mr. Rubell said. “I was going to be the one to save it. I can’t tell you how many countless meetings I’ve had with the Noy clan, Kathy, and Bob Perl. I really wanted to save it. But at the end of the day, it was like trying to solve the Iranian-Israeli conflict.”

Today, a shocked Ms. Kirkpatrick lamented that both Mr. Perl and Mr. Rubell had thrown in the towel. “I’m very sorry if this is the final outcome. I’m very sorry to hear it,” she said. “Waiting for this is why Life kind of languished in terms of what we were able to produce there.”

By the end of the day everyone seemed to be looking towards the future. “I know [Bob’s] upset because his space will be worth substantially less,” said Mr. Noy. “He won’t have the corner for marketing purposes.”

But Mr. Perl struck an optimistic tone. “I have people offering me more rent for [my space] than what Life Café was worth. At some point you just have to give up,” he said.

Ms. Kirkpatrick, meanwhile, is focusing on the success of her Bushwick location. “It’s more like what Life should be, here. We’ve been here 10 years, and it’s time to do a little facelift and adjustments. It’s funny — it’s like the same story as it was in the East Village.”