By LINDA MOSS
The new tenant at the former Rascals Comedy Club space has outlined plans to transform the venue, vacant for a decade, into a bar-restaurant with live entertainment called the Montclair Social Club.
The people behind the project, which they describe as a supper club, have already appeared before the Township Historic Preservation Commission to get approval for improvements to the facade of the site at 499-501 Bloomfield Ave.
Next, the group needs variances from the Township Planning Board for signage and to install a teak shed in the property’s rear to house a dumpster and some of the building’s mechanical gear. The Montclair Social Club is slated to open this spring.
Jason Miller, a Short Hills attorney, is the main backer of the new eatery. He is a majority owner, with 43 percent of the business. His family trust holds another 10 percent and Heather Lucania of Park Ridge owns 13 percent, according to papers filed with the township.
Contractors are already working on renovations to the former site, which is owned by Montclair commercial landlord Dick Grabowsky, and have gutted much of the first floor.
Last summer Grabowsky said that he had secured Miller as a tenant for the space, which was empty for 10 years. Grabowsky said then that his plans to lease the space had been hamstrung for years because Rascals had filed for federal bankruptcy, and those legal proceedings continued into 2013. Then the landlord said he struggled to find the right tenant until Miller came along.
Back in the summer Grabowsky said that he anticipated that the new upscale bar-restaurant would open this January, but that debut has been delayed. Miller also was planning a large upstairs catering hall at the site in the future, according to Grabowsky.
At the HPC hearing in December Miller’s architect, Garrett Singer of Englewood, said that the Montclair Social Club’s first floor will house a bar-restaurant with “a small stage and a music component.” He also described it as a “jazz-style” supper club, a lounge and dinner theater.
Miller told the commission that he had “a full theater event” concept, which he said he didn’t want to elaborate on yet, slated for upstairs.
“This is a multi-phased project,” he said. “We have an option to proceed with the upstairs at a future date … For financial reasons we are not able to do the entire project at one time.”
Singer said that the existing awnings of the property, which is actually two joined buildings, will be made a bit smaller, “thinned out,” and their color will be changed from burgundy to a teal blue or jade color. The facade’s wood will be refinished and its brick repainted, as well. The building’s marquee will remain, with proposed changes to its lighting.
The restaurant’s exterior will feature a laser-cut brass logo for the Montclair Social Club mounted on wood paneling, according to Singer. That logo sign is a bit larger than the township permits, so the planning board will be asked to grant a variane for that.
Miller is also creating an entrance to his restaurant in the rear of the property.
Those proposed changes had to go before the HPC because the Bloomfield Avenue site is in the historic town center.
The former comedy club site has 15,000 square feet, with 6,000 on both the first floor and the second floor.
In a prepared statement last summer Miller described his project as “a hip new restaurant and bar, social club and versatile catering and events venue featuring local farm-fresh fare and live entertainment.”
Miller and his group bought the consumption liquor license for the property that Grabowsky had.
At the end of the HPC hearing, Chair Kathleen Bennett told Miller, “Good luck. It’ll be great.”