Shake Shack Impresario Applying for Liquor License for Shakespeare Playhouse Eatery
By Lore Croghan
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?
The play's the thing at Shakespeare's new theater in Downtown Brooklyn – but a nice nosh and some vino beforehand and an espresso pick-me-up at intermission will enhance the experience.
The Theatre for a New Audience is building a lobby cafe that foodie superstar Danny Meyer's company will operate. Wednesday night, the restaurateur won initial support from Community Board 2 for its liquor license. Cue Falstaff to hoist a tankard in celebration.
The creator of iconic Union Square Cafe, who brought the wildly popular Shake Shack to the Fulton Mall, wants to feed theater-goers $11 roasted pork loin sandwiches with red cabbage cilantro slaw and $8 kale Caesar salads with $8 glasses of local wine to wash it down.
“Danny Meyer is known as a good neighbor,” Union Square Hospitality Group exec Austin Publicover told CB2's Health, Environment and Social Services Committee.
Downtown Brooklyn Partnership staffer Katie Lyon said at the meeting that the restaurant operator is “a responsible partner in the community.” Meyer played a key role in the 1980s revival of commerce in the Union Square area when the park there was a junkies' hangout.
Union Square Events, the entity applying for the liquor license for the playhouse at 262 Ashland Place, has experience running a theater eatery – at the Delacorte in Central Park. The committee unanimously approved its application.
TFANA, which opened its inaugural production of Julie Taymor's “Midsummer Night's Dream” to critical acclaim last weekend, considers the cafe “an amenity for our patrons” that will operate only on performance days, TFANA managing director Dorothy Ryan said.
The eatery will open at 6 p.m. when there's a 7:30 p.m. curtain time and at 1 p.m. before 2 p.m. matinees. It will close after intermission – there will be no late-night serving of cakes and ale.
Asked if audiences would be allowed to take cafe food and booze to their seats, Ryan said the theater might decide to let in drinks, but food's a no go.
After the meeting, Publicover and Ryan told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle they hope to open the cafe the third week of November.
“We want our patrons to be able to have a real meal,” Ryan said. “We want to offer nutritious, wholesome food at a reasonable price. It's not to compete with restaurants. We really thought about this,” she said.
For burgers and fries, Meyer fans must stick with Shake Shack. They won't be on the menu at Shakespeare's house. “We've got a rustic American-Italian thing going on,” Publicover said.
There will be specialty cocktails as well as beer and wine, the coffee will be gourmet fave La Colombe, and the pastries will be provided by Brooklynites like Greenpoint bakery Ovenly – except on weekends, when SoHo institution Balthazar will supply quiche and other goodies.
The cafe's main installation will be in the ground-floor lobby, by the ticket window and under a staircase. The bar is being fabricated now, of teak wood, glass and Corian for the countertops.
The lobby has tables for stand-up dining. When the weather cooperates, banquettes on the plaza outside TFANA will serve as seats for those who wish to down $7 seasonal craft beers beneath the stars. (An aside: Landscape architect Ken Smith's design for the circular red seats was inspired by a photo of Liza Minnelli and Andy Warhol sitting on banquettes at El Morocco, a Manhattan club.)
In an upstairs lobby an auxiliary bar will serve drinks, coffee and “grab-and-go” snacks like candy and nuts.
The TFANA cafe will be Meyer's second Brooklyn operation. The third – a Shake Shack at 170 Flatbush Ave. across from Barclays Center – is under construction that will take two to three months to complete, Publicover said.
TFANA's Polonsky Shakespeare Center – the first classical theater built in New York City since the Vivian Beaumont in 1965 – is the latest addition to the BAM Cultural District. There's a wave of residential, hotel and arts construction in the mini-neighborhood, which is also known as the Downtown Brooklyn Cultural District.
Until now, the 34-year-old Shakespeare theater had no home and used rented venues, usually in Manhattan, to stage the Bard's works and other classical plays.