He Seeks New Life for Tribeca Eateries, Pairing Artists with Street Pop Ups

Making the rounds of Tribeca restaurants, Bill Tsapalas prepares to approach the manager of Saluggi's on Church Street, hoping he'll agree to spruce up his pop-up patio with the Neighborhood Curbside Canvas Project. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib  

Sep. 10, 2020

“I’m not selling anything.”

Those were Bill Tsapalas’s first words to Tribeca restaurant owners and managers lately as he went from one eatery to the next, hoping to grab a few minutes of their time. All he was after was the survival of their business, with the help of art.

Biking by one pop-up restaurant patio after another, Tsapalas saw that many of them, hastily constructed with unpainted plywood, did little to entice customers. Then he pictured their potenial: “Canvases waiting to be adorned.”

So for the past couple of weeks, Tsapalas, a 26-year Tribeca resident, has been playing matchmaker, approaching restaurateurs with his idea of allowing an artist to paint their pop-ups, while also seeking artists interested in creating the al fresco works. If he’s successful, he hopes to turn his Neighborhood Curbside Canvas Project into an art crawl.

But time is short. Outdoor dining is set to expire on Oct. 31. “I feel like I have two weeks so that these restaurants have a fighting chance at winter survival,” said Tsapalas, a marketing and advertising consultant with a graphic arts background. “They need to make their money during this outdoor season.”

Help came from Bettina Teodoro, co-chair of Taste of Tribeca, the annual food fair and school fundraiser, who sent out announcements to their extensive list of participating restaurants. Dmitri Ganiaris of Tribeca Alliance Partnership also got the word out.

As of Thursday, Tsapalas said he had commitments from 15 restaurants and seven artists. The first artist to put paint to plywood was Ford Crull at the Dark Horse, the bar and restaurant on Murray Street where he’s a regular.

“I’m doing it for these guys because I care about them,” said Crull, whose symbol-filled art was turning the structure’s blank interior into a densely painted mural. “It would break my heart if these guys went out of business.”

“It’s something different,” added Shane Gallagher, the bar’s manager. “Bringing more attention to the bar, and to one of our long-term regulars here.” 

While responses to Tsapalas’s cold calls to restaurateurs have been mixed, from those too overwhelmed to consider the idea, or satisfied with what they have, to others like Frank Torres, general manager of American Whiskey on West Broadway. He embraced the opportunity before Tsapalas could even finish his pitch.

“I love this idea,” he said. “How can we get in?”

“We set it up right away and didn’t have time to decorate,” Torres explained. “We all thought that this was going to be a temporary thing. But now it looks permanent. So it’s a lot different when you have to basically open up a restaurant on the side of a street.” 

Tsapalas, an avid bike rider, said he took on the project because “I’ve done a lot [during the pandemic] to improve my health, and my general well-being. But this is a way I can help the neighborhood instead of looking back and saying, I only served myself. I just rode my bike and got healthier.” He is raising money through a GoFundMe campaign to help offset the cost of artist supplies.

On Wednesday, Gov. Cuomo announced that indoor dining, at 25% capacity, could resume in the city on Sept. 30. That good news for restaurants, Tsapalas said, doesn’t diminish his resolve to draw patrons to the pop-ups.

“I still feel the idea is to have more foot traffic, more attention,” he said. “People getting together is what the community needs to thrive and survive.”