By LINDA MOSS
A new tenant, an upscale restaurant and large catering facility, will be moving into the former Rascals Comedy Club, which has been vacant for a decade.
A group led by an area attorney, Jason Miller, will be leasing the 15,000-square-foot space at 499-501 Bloomfield Ave. from Montclair developer and commercial landlord Dick Grabowsky.
Miller, whose investors include several township residents, in a statement said that he is planning “a hip new restaurant and bar, social club and versatile catering and events venue featuring local farm-fresh fare and live entertainment.”
The former comedy club site, which has 15,000 square feet, will be totally gutted and renovated, according to Grabowsky, who said he will be transferring one of the liquor licenses he owns in town to Miller’s group.
Rascals’ replacement, slated to open Jan. 1, 2018, will be joining a host of new restaurants that have recently flocked to the Bloomfield Avenue corridor in downtown Montclair.
The new facility’s first floor, 6,000 square feet, will be a restaurant with a bar, Grabowsky said. A “celebrity chef,” who Grabowsky declined to name, will be in charge of the kitchen.
“It’s a place where you’ll be able to get a martini in the right atmosphere,” he said of the eatery. “It will be a quality environment.”
The second floor, also 6,000 square feet, will be used for catering.
“It’s Montclair’s first real legitimate catering facility where food is actually cooked and served from scratch on premises as opposed to the other places in town where food is brought in or just warmed in the kitchen,” Grabowsky said. “This is going to be a place capable of serving 300 people on the second floor.”
The site’s 3,000-square-foot lower level will have a state-of-the-art kitchen and be used for food preparation, according to Grabowsky.
He said that the Bloomfield Avenue property has been vacant since Rascals filed for federal bankruptcy in 2007, a process that put his plans for the site in abeyance. That bankruptcy “dragged on right up into” 2013, according to Grabowsky.
“Unfortunately, because it was my liquor license, I couldn’t do anything really until all the requirements of the federal bankruptcy court were satisfied,” he said. “Vendors had to be paid, liquor bills had to be paid, things that they [Rascals] left when they went bankrupt.”
Grabowsky said he was discerning about who he wanted to replace at the prominent location on Bloomfield Avenue. He said he sent 10 years “searching for the right kind of tenant for downtown Montclair, one that won’t burden the police department with noise and disruption at late hours into the evening caused by people who are way too young, just over the drinking age, who are coming to a ‘club’ environment.”
He added, “I’ve had literally several dozen potential tenants, all of whom were willing to pay the rent, but none of whom had the qualifications I was looking for, which was to bring catering to downtown.”
Miller fit the bill, according to Grabowsky. The lawyer spent the last two years developing a business plan, which he presented to Grabowsky about a year and half ago.
“I was very enthusiastic,” Grabowsky said. “When I heard what he wanted to do I said I’m willing to wait if you feel you can put all the funding together to do it. And he has a substantial number of investors, including some local people who have signed on to be partners in this venture.”
Miller has applied for a demolition permit to start what Grabowsky described as “a very, very substantial renovation.”
The former Rascals site is actually two buildings, and Miller will be enlarging the opening between them that connects them, according to Grabowsky.
“And they’re exposing the higher ceilings in the smaller of the two first-floor areas,” he said.
The second-floor catering area will have a movable wall system so it can be reconfigured to suit different events, Grabowsky said, and more than one function will be able to be held there at one time.
“I’m very enthusiastic about it and I hope it’s a tremendous success.” Grabowsky said of the planned restaurant/catering facility.
“I think it’s a big addition to the downtown,” he said. “I think when it’s operating it’s going to be something that is appealing to the people who have come from other areas of the New York metropolitan area and moved to Montclair. And one of the reasons that they’ve come here is for the entertainment and the food and nightlife. And I believe that this facility will be a very positive addition that will be utilized for events and parties and affairs, weddings, bar mitzvahs, all kinds of things where people would like to stay in town.”
Grabowsky said that he expects the first-floor restaurant and bar to open in January, with renovations on the second-floor catering hall completed and open for business some time after that.