It's Last Call for Suspenders, Popular FiDi Pub and Restaurant

Bill Ahearn, the co-owner of Suspenders NYC, said two groups of Wall Street investors may be able to help fund a relocation of his FiDi restaurant and bar, which is set to close for good at the end of the month. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Posted
May. 12, 2014

Bill Ahearn and Pete Galiano’s popular FiDi bar and restaurant, Suspenders NYC, has made it through three recessions and the terrorist attacks on the nearby World Trade Center. Now they cling to a thread of hope that the business they built 26 years ago, at 111 Broadway, can be a survivor once again.

Until a couple of weeks ago, the end was inevitable. There would be no more extensions to a lease that expired a year ago. And by June 1, the owners were resigned to seeing their 80-foot-long rectangular mahogany bar (“one of the finest you could ever make,” Ahearn said), their stained glass windows and fixtures auctioned off, and their futures spent in retirement.

Then word of the closing got out.

“Two groups of Wall Street investors came to us and said, ‘My God, we’ve been here for 25 years with you people. Would you consider going in business somewhere else in the area?’” Ahearn recalled. “I said, ‘Yeah, I would.’”

At their age—Ahearn is 68, Galiano will soon turn 69—and without financial backing, the partners said they would not have thought of starting over. But with the help of those potential investors, whom they declined to identify, they said they could open somewhere else Downtown, taking the bar and furnishings with him.

But they need time. Just three or four more months, they said, to find a new space and move out.

So far, that is something that their landlord, Capital Properties, has refused, and appeals to building manager VaShawn Cooper also went nowhere. According to Ahearn, Cooper called the extension “absolutely out of the question,” and told him he had already been given ample time to close up.

Cooper declined to comment to the Trib, referring questions to Suspenders.

“If he doesn’t want me here, I don’t want to be here,” Ahearn said, seated with a glass of wine in the cozy dimness of his pub one afternoon last week. “But it’s not like somebody’s waiting to come in here tomorrow. His plan is to gut it and try to sell it on the market, and do something else with it.”

Last week, Ahearn appeared before Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee, asking for a letter of support in his plea to the landlord. Calling Suspenders a “good neighbor,” the committee agreed.

The jobs of 24 full-time employees are at stake, said Ahearn, who waited until another lease extension looked hopeless before giving his workers the bad news.

“I said, ‘Listen, a month from now, we’re history,’” Ahearn recalled. “And they were like, ‘What? We’ve always weathered every other storm.’”

The 2008 economic downturn was one of those storms, recalled Alicia Dlesya Reyenger, a manager who has worked at Suspenders for six years.

“It was one of those places that stayed open and managed to stay successful through the recession,” Reyenger said. “Not a lot of people could afford to eat out on as regular a basis as they used to. If people decided to go anywhere, they decided to come here.”

Reyenger called the news of the closing “devastating,” but said she feels worse for her boss.

“A lot of the bits and pieces of this place have been built by him, often with his own hands, 26 years ago,” she said.

The closing is a heartbreaking final straw for the owners, who struggled to keep their restaurant open after the Sept. 11 attacks that killed many of their customers.

“We hung in there during the hard times hoping they were going to rebuild Ground Zero, which took 10 years,” Galiano said. “And now we see some light at the end of the tunnel and we're evicted.”

“We could have financially had a much better deal by saying, we’re out of here [after Sept. 11],” said Ahearn, a retired FDNY lieutenant who started Suspenders with several other firefighters. “But we were firemen before we were restaurant owners. Those people needed us. And that’s why we stayed.”

After the attacks, their restaurant covered in dust and declared off limits by the FBI as part of a “crime scene,” Ahearn said he broke the locks and opened the place up to exhausted first responders and who toiled for long hours amid the rubble.

“‘Come on in here, sleep on the floors,’” Ahearn said he told them. “‘Use the bathroom, whatever you wanna do.’”

Eight years earlier, following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that killed six people, many who worked Downtown crowded into Suspenders, seeking sanctuary. Ahearn remembers then, too, lending a hand to World Trade Center workers.

“I said, ‘Call your wife on our phone, tell her you’re OK, and please take 30 seconds because I have a guy right behind you,’” Ahearn recalled.

For patrons, the restaurant was a comforting, welcoming place where people could sit, have a beer and get to know each other, according to John Fitzpatrick and Brian Conlon, who were chatting at the bar one afternoon last week. The two men work Downtown and met at the restaurant 23 years ago. They are now friends.

Over the years, Fitzpatrick and Conlon also grew close to Suspenders’ employees, even attending some of their weddings. When Fitzpatrick found out about the closing, he said he “shed tears.”

“Suspenders is basically a part of the fabric of the local community,” Conlon added. “There aren’t any really iconic places that have survived.”