Two new restaurants proposed

May 14, 2010
By

David Taber

New parking lot owner will seek to develop

FOREST HILLS—Two new restaurant proposals were put forward and the new owners of the former Fitzgerald parking lot indicated they see major commercial development in that 2-acre lot’s future at a May 4 meeting of the West Roxbury Courthouse Neighborhood Association.

Mark Lutwack of LAZ Parking—the new owners of the parking across from the Forest Hills T Station on the Forest Hills Cemetery side—also told the 25 meeting attendees LAZ would do a better job of maintaining the lot than the former owner, FitzInn Parking Systems.

LAZ purchased the lot earlier this year along with two other FitzInn-owned lots in the Greater Boston Area, all of which were in foreclosure.

Restaurants

Preliminary pitches were made to the neighborhood association for two restaurants—one an Irish pub and one specializing in mid-priced “American” food. The two restaurants hope to open next door to each other in vacant storefronts at 3700 Washington St., formerly a barbershop, and 3698 Washington St., formerly the bar Griffin’s Cafe.

Both of the would-be Forest Hills restaurateurs claimed strong ties to Jamaica Plain.

John Jacobs—who plans to open an Irish pub at 3700 Washington, at the former site of a long-closed barbershop—was the original owner of the Jeanie Johnston pub at 144 South St. He sold it in 2001 and has since opened two other restaurants—Beckett’s in Walpole and Napper Tandy’s in Norwood.

The new restaurant would also be called Napper Tandy’s, Jacobs told the Gazette.

Before the Jeanie Johnston moved in about 10 years ago, the site was home to another bar called Lockhorn’s. The previous bar’s history included license suspensions for drug-dealing on the premises and selling alcohol to minors, the Gazette reported at the time.

“There were a lot of problems before we took over,” Johnson told the Gazette in a phone interview last week. Improvements to the location included installing a kitchen and windows to the location, which previously “had one small 18-inch by two-foot window and a door,” Johnson said.

A longtime JP activist and head of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) Public Service Committee Michael Reiskind, told the Gazette there were no complaints about the Johnston during Jacobs’ brief tenure there.

At the meeting, Jacobs said the proposed Napper Tandy’s location at 3700 Washington St.—a former barbershop that has been vacant for at least a decade—would need a “complete build-out,” including the installation of a kitchen.

Jacobs’s lawyer, Bill McDermott, said Jacobs plans to purchase a liquor license currently held by a closed pub in Hyde Park.

Jacobs still has to go through a community review process that will include a vote on whether to support the liquor license transfer by the JPNC Public Service Committee and the JPNC as a whole.

Jeanie Johnston and Napper Tandy are both iconic names in Irish history. The “Jeanie Johnston” was a ship that brought starving immigrants from Ireland to the US during the Irish potato famine in the mid-19th century. It was famous for never losing a passenger in 16 transatlantic trips. James Napper Tandy was an Irish rebel leader in the 18th century. Napper Tandy is also slang for brandy.

A few meeting attendees at the neighborhood association meeting expressed some reservations about the project.

One neighbor noted that nearby restaurants, including Doyle’s Café and James’s Gate, serve similar-sounding menus to what Jacobs has proposed. “It’s the same concept. I just don’t see the point,” she said.

Another resident said he hopes Jacobs will install a rooftop barricade to discourage people from climbing up and sleeping there, which is a regular problem, he said.

Local resident Henry Allen repeatedly expressed concerns about parking. Both Jacobs and Hector Montesino, who presented the 3698 Washington St. restaurant proposal, said they hope to strike a deal with LAZ allowing patrons access to that lot in the evenings.

Lutwack said LAZ would be open to setting up an arrangement.

Montesino was at the meeting representing Croan McCormack, who is also the owner of the JP-based Peace of Mind Home Healthcare Company. McCormack did not attend the meeting.

McCormack, the potential American food purveyor, hopes to open a “New American bistro” at the former site of the bar Griffin’s Café, which closed a year ago.

Montesino presented after Jacobs, and repeatedly emphasized that the cuisine served would be unique. He later compared it to local restaurants in JP center, saying it would be “like Ten Tables but not as expensive” and similar to VeeVee.

McCormack is in the process of negotiating to buy a liquor license, Montesino said. Once that is complete, the new restaurant will start moving forward with its community process. McCormack is being represented the law firm McDermott, Quilty and Miller—a firm with a strong reputation for handling licensing issues. Jacobs’s lawyer, Bill McDermott, is not a member of that firm.

Parking lot

Lutwack told the neighborhood association that LAZ Parking would do a better job of maintaining it than former owner FitzInn Parking Systems.

While he was not able to commit to specific improvements, Lutwack did say he would look into requests generated at the meeting. Those included

• Trimming back the overgrowth and clearing the sidewalk at the intersection of the Arborway and Orchard Hill Road. Residents identified the overgrowth at the rear of the lot as a public safety concern.

• Paying for a garbage barrel and taking responsibility for a small state-controlled grass patch on the Arborway adjacent to the Casey Overpass. Residents referred to that area as the “field of nips”—a reference to small single-serving bottles of hard alcohol—and recommended the installation of a recycling bin along with a trash barrel.

“You can be drunk and environmentally responsible at the same time,” one resident said.

“Only in JP,” another member of the audience responded.

•Removing a chain-link fence on the Arborway side of the lot. That fence is unattractive and redundant because there is already a guardrail preventing drivers from leaving the lot without paying, residents said.

Lutwack said he would like to see that fence replaced with decorative fencing, but noted that such moves are sometimes an uphill battle at LAZ. “Every time you talk about removing a fence, someone gets the idea to fix it,” he said.

When the economy improves, LAZ will likely seek out a developer to build on the lot, Lutwack said. But LAZ as part of its business, is a parking consultant for development projects. It will probably be involved with the any new development project and remain involved with the site, he said.

“Most of the plans that are talked about involve maintaining parking to support what [will be] built there as well as the current need for transportation parking,” Lutwack said.

Lutwack did not say what “plans” he was referring to. Community “Use and Design Guidelines” were developed for the lot as part of a multi-year Boston Redevelopment Authority-led planning process for a handful of properties around the Forest Hills T Station.

The guidelines call for six four- and five-story residential buildings with
ground-floor retail for the site.