New York's Department of Buildings paid a surprise visit to Soho's La Esquina this morning that led to a shutdown of the popular Mexican restaurant. The reason: La Esquina's "secret" basement bar and eatery is a fire hazard.
An employee stood guard by the restaurant's ground floor entrance on Kenmare Street explaining what she said was the inaccurate violation and urging would-be customers to sign a petition in the restaurant's favor. Signs posted by management promised the joint would be up and running in a few days. But intimidating Buildings Department notices suggested an uphill battle.
One "Vacate" sign warned that:
"Conditions in this premises are imminently perilous to life. This premises has been vacated and reentry is prohibited until such conditions have been eliminated to the satisfaction of the department."
Another leaflet went into specifics, citing the cellar portion of the establishment (which also includes a humble taqueria on Kenmare and a more casual sit-down restaurant on Lafayette) as the source of the issue:
"This order is issued because there is imminent danger to life or public safety or safety of the occupants or to property, in that at cellar level arranged for over 284 occupants with wood combustible ceilings and inadequate egress (illegally Egress through intervening spaces) on 1st floor."
And that doesn't even mention the fiery tequila and habanero peppers!
Those "intervening spaces" sound like the labyrinthine entrance to the basement area, which includes a cool-affirming detour through a ratty kitchen and stairwell and was a big part of La Esquina's appeal. Again, the employee insisted the building was up to code and that the violation would be overturned.
Meanwhile, she was nice enough to direct burrito-craving passersby to the Calexico cart down the street.