Is an establishment that serves food and alcohol a restaurant or a bar?
It’s a crucial distinction to aggravated Morristown residents, who told the town council on Tuesday that a proposed six-fold expansion of the Tashmoo Restaurant & Bar will add more drunks, noise, trash and parking problems to neighborhoods fed up with weekend bar crowds.
It’s just as important to Tashmoo’s Dave Walsh. He boasts of a spotless record at Tashmoo since 2008, contends he meets all requirements for an expansion, and aims to invest up to $1.5 million to put a seafood restaurant with 50 jobs and a $250,000 retractable roof at 10 DeHart St., next to Tashmoo.
After hearing nearly four hours of testimony–by many of the same combatants from last summer’s failed proposal for a bowling alley/bar at the same address–the council called it a night and set an April 10 return date for deliberations.
‘LIKE PICCADILLY CIRCUS IN WORLD WAR II’
“It’s a restaurant first, second and third,” testified Eric Sellin, former owner and chef at Manriques in Mendham, and general manager of the proposed establishment on DeHart Street.
He said the new Tashmoo would specialize in fresh seafood, serving lunch, “early bird specials,” and dinners until about 10 pm, when the menu would revert to lighter fare until 2 am.
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That’s the part that most worried residents in the packed council chambers. Many said they would welcome a seafood restaurant–but feared that its four bars would transform the place into another late-night watering hole after the kitchen closed.
“I would not be speaking against this tonight if it really were, as described, a restaurant,” said Eldon Priestley, a resident of the luxury condos at 40 Park. “For me, it’s what happens between 11:30 and 2 am, and then what happens after 2 am, when all these people come spilling out onto the street.”
His neighbor, Richard Amster, said insomnia drives him to late-night strolls on weekends. DeHart Street, home to the Dark Horse Lounge and Tashmoo, is “an uncontrolled madhouse,” Richard said. One summer night he observed pushing and yelling on the street, a man urinating in an alley, and couples making out in dark recesses. “It reminded me of Piccadilly Circus in World War II.”
SUNDAY MORNING BRUNCHES?
Tashmoo now seats about 50 people and has 1,500 square feet of space, according to architect Ray Caselli. The proposed two-story structure, which would connect to Tashmoo across an alley, should seat 228 and encompass 9,000 square feet, including a gated courtyard. The four bars would total 122 feet in length, with approximately 60 stools.
These bars would be essential for private functions, said Eric Sellin, who envisions Sunday morning brunches, cooking demonstrations and wine tastings for charity.
The retractable roof will draw diners of all ages to Morristown, he said, for $25 entrees that will make them forget about “pub grub.”
Last year the council imposed an 11 pm curfew for liquor sales as a condition of the Iron Bar’s liquor license expansion to the Gran Cantina, an adjacent Mexican restaurant in the former Zebu Forno space on South Street.
But the new Tashmoo will be more akin to restaurants like Roots, Urban Table, David Todd’s City Tavern and Sebastian’s Steakhouse–places that are not saddled with such curfews, said Robert Williams, the lawyer for Tashmoo.
‘DEALING WITH THE FALLOUT’
Tuesday’s battle lines largely were generational, pitting younger residents against older ones who can afford pricey condos and splendid homes in the historic district.
One self-described “young professional,” Trevor Jones, bristled at being lumped together with revelers who vomit and urinate on sidewalks.
A Tashmoo barmaid portrayed the present place as a cozy meeting spot for patrons between ages 30 and 50. “It’s one of the chillest places in town,” said Melissa Wirths.
Her father, Tashmoo partner Matt Wirths, expressed sympathy for the condo dwellers–to a point. “These people have chosen to live downtown in our business district, and now they’re dealing with the fallout of living in a city.”
Opponents of the expansion reminded town officials that they vote, a message they hope resonates in a year when the mayor and three council members seek re-election.
The sharpest barbs at officials came from a 40 Park resident. Christine Conti-Collins was a vociferous adversary of the bowling alley and bar, but supports Tashmoo’s expansion. She insisted the town must “do its job” of managing situations it has created by allowing luxury housing and bars to proliferate, cheek-by-jowl.
“It’s incredible they can’t issue a transparent report on that committee,” she said. “I don’t know what they’ve been doing for nine months.”
Dave Walsh, whose family owns the Dark Horse Lounge and Sona Thirteen, said they were wondering about that, too.
“We’re more than willing to contribute,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for a note to come in the mail saying, ‘This is your percentage.'”