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Robin Birley’s NYC plans spark uproar on Upper East Side

A posh members-only club that a London nightlife impresario has planned for Manhattan’s Upper East Side has sparked a ruckus among the neighborhood’s well-to-do residents. 

The fear of drunken millionaires spilling out of the prewar condo tower at 828 Madison Ave. with their chauffeured limos idling and clogging the otherwise tranquil streets, animated a virtual community board meeting last week, according to local reports.

The meeting to approve the as-yet-to-be-named club’s liquor license application “was supposed to be a slam dunk,” one observer told Side Dish.

Instead, it quickly descended into a heated debate between residents, with those supporting the club being mocked and labeled “sycophants” of Robin Birley – the British nightlife honcho – by the neighborhood blog Upper East Site.

Birley – whose exclusive London hotspots are celebrity magnets where Prince Harry took Meghan Markle on their first date – has signed a 20-year lease for the space, with an option to extend to 30 years, as Side Dish previously reported exclusively. 

“The main issue is that the residents of the Upper East Side won’t get to participate in the positives that the club will bring, only the negatives,” one neighbor who lives at 10 E. 70th St., adjacent to the proposed club, told Side Dish.

Robin Birley
Robin Birley has signed a 20-year lease for the space.
Dave Benett/Getty Images for Din Tai Fung

The resident, who asked not to be named, granted that the club will bring well-heeled foot traffic to Madison Avenue’s jewelry shops and high-end retailers, which are “are dying” during the day. Still, she said, the nighttime traffic is a concern.

“There has been a lot of targeting of wealthy people on the streets of New York, like people being robbed of their watches while they are eating at restaurants,” she said. “I’m concerned that once this place becomes known as a spot for wealthy people, they will be targeted when they come out of the club.”

“Of course, many of them will have drivers waiting for them,” she added. “But then there will be a backup of limos stacked up outside the club.”

Others not only fear the late-night commotion but also the upheaval it would cause during the day to their serene oasis. Leslie Samuels, president of the East 70th Street block association, said daily deliveries and garbage pickup “will certainly result … in serious traffic congestion and noise,” according to the blog. 

“(It is an) understatement to say that this club will negatively affect residents’ quiet enjoyment of their homes,” said Milton Strom, president of the 10 East 70th Street Coop, which is adjacent to the club, the blog reported.

The club is slated to open at 7 a.m. for breakfast and close at 1 a.m. at the two-story, 12,000-square-foot space occupying the first floor and mezzanine level of a luxury condo tower between E. 69th and E. 70th streets, formerly known as the Westbury Hotel. The hours are not set in stone, sources say, and could still change. 

The membership fee is expected to be in the thousands of dollars and only open to those who have recommendations from two members of Birley’s current clubs.

Sources close to Birley say the neighborhood opposition was unexpected and that he is doing everything he can to work with his neighbors to address their concerns — adding that the club will bring around 150 jobs to the neighborhood and “activity” to the street. 

828 Madison Ave.
The club is slated to open at 7 a.m. for breakfast and close at 1 a.m. at the two-story, 12,000-square-foot space.
Matthew McDermott

“We understand that anything new to a community always comes with concerns. We are working diligently to address them as a responsible member of the community we want to be a part of,” said a spokesperson for Birley, whose late father, Mark Birley, opened the legendary Annabel’s club in London that was frequented by the Beatles. 

“The specific concerns raised by our neighbors about traffic and waste collection are also being taken care of with firms specialized in managing and eliminating the potentially negative impact of these issues,” the publicist added. 

The spokesperson also said that because the private club is for dining, not dancing, “there will be no line outside, no rowdy crowd making their way or trying to come in. It is a quiet and understated establishment.” 

After the heated debate, the community board tabled discussion until September. 

Matt Bauer, president of the Madison Avenue Building Improvement District, told Side Dish that Birley’s foray into Manhattan’s Upper East Side is a “very positive new development” for the neighborhood, which has a 150-plus year history of housing private clubs like the Harmonie Club and the Metropolitan Club, both on E. 60th St., and the Knickerbocker Club on E. 62nd St. 

“There’s always different voices at community board meetings,” Bauer said. “People have concerns and express them. But I think the club will enhance the neighborhood.” 

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