Urbano Estevez’s days running what some cantankerous neighbors described as arguably the noisiest gastro-leaning nightclub in the community appear to have come to an end.
But that’s not enough for the Riverdale restaurateur to call it quits in the industry. Instead, he’s revamping his approach to what he’ll offer the neighborhood from his seemingly ever-morphing West 242nd Street establishment.
The state’s liquor authority denied a liquor license renewal for Estevez’s Barcelona Bites, the now-defunct raucous bar and restaurant where rowdy customers’ wee-hour antics chronically disrupted neighbors’ shuteye and sense of calm after the bar’s license expired Dec. 31.
Yet it appears Estevez — who also owns the neighboring, and decidedly more subdued, Latin-Asian mashup concept Yokomo, armed with a still-active liquor license — nevertheless is dead-set on rethinking his business model in an attempt to mollify some of the noise, fighting, public urination, parking problems and other issues that led Community Board 8 to urge the liquor authority not to renew Barcelona Bites’ license.
Now Estevez is racking his brain over how he’ll start fresh, with ambitions of transforming the business into a veritable restaurant in a more traditional sense.
That could well be an eatery that’s more “family-friendly” — including a downstairs space that would be rented out for quieter events like baby showers — while jettisoning the troublesome nightclub component.
And while it’s all still a bit inchoate and rather amorphous, Estevez maintains it’s part of a broader plan — including terminating those notorious late-night shenanigans and shifting to becoming a full-fledged restaurant.
“We are revamping and trying to figure out basically how we’re going to do this,” Estevez told The Riverdale Press, including getting around the hitch of not having a liquor license — at least for the moment.
“We’re just fixing up a few little things in the meantime to be productive,” like brainstorming how to redesign the space so it offers a more laidback restaurant vibe and less what weekend revelers might expect at 2 a.m., on a Saturday.
Estevez is gunning to hire a few hands who know “more about the restaurant aspect of the business” although he didn’t name any names, who could probably lend insight to smooth out the transition. But “as of now, we’re closed, just to figure out what type of theme, what type of restaurant we’re going to go with.”
But Estevez is no novice to his trade. Barcelona Bites made waves in the local nightlife scene when chef Kelvin Fernandez — who’s dished out plates to hip-hop magnate Jay-Z and somehow managed to vanquish celebrity chef Bobby Flay in his own Food Network show — opened the place in 2015 soon after moving to the neighborhood, bringing his off-the-beaten-path interpretation of Latin cuisine to a subdued side street off Broadway.
His aim was to deliver “the downtown exposure to uptown in Riverdale and the Bronx, because I know people can appreciate that,” he told The Press at the time.
While Fernandez moved on some time ago, noise continuously plagued Barcelona Bites’ neighbors as the restaurant erupted into a nightclub on weekends, much to the chagrin of some nearby families. Nevertheless, Estevez insisted he was hell-bent on extinguishing the problem before it got too out of hand, even visiting the nearby 50th Precinct soon after his restaurant opened to talk out some of the sore points with then commanding officer Terence O’Toole.
“Urbano was very good with the community,” O’Toole told The Press last December, adding Estevez even welcomed residents to the establishment for tapas and urged them to air their angst on anything they felt left room for improvement.
“Some nights, he had quite a few people, and they would all talk about what was going on,” O’Toole said, including the noise problem. The deejay blasting bone-shaking beats almost until dawn probably didn’t help smooth things over with the some early-bird neighbors, though.
And yet, O’Toole recalled Estevez “was helpful and cooperative” before things really spun out of control in a way the proprietor said he actually didn’t see coming.
But Estevez hopes reopening as a restaurant will infuse the at-times dreary strip of West 242nd with some much needed energy.
As for when that could happen, though, remains somewhat sketchy, and lacking a liquor license doesn’t make it easier or Estevez any less anxious. But he’s not too concerned.
And, there’s hope — because he can always try again to regain his liquor license.
While that may make some slightly traumatized neighbors a bit nervous, Estevez says they shouldn’t be. He just wants to offer a calm, comfy neighborhood joint where they can tuck into a deeply satisfying meal.
“I’ve been in business for all my life,” said Estevez, whose father owned grocery stores. “Nothing lasts forever. With Barcelona Bites, we started very well, more of a restaurant, but it started dying down. It’s a big place, and especially when you’re dealing with a bigger place, you’ve got to fill it up. After a while, you’ll see — you’ve got to pay bills.”