As Temp. Home at Madison Nears Closing Time, The Frick Battles Liquor License Rumors

Reports have falsely claimed that when The Frick Collection reopens its renovated museum on E. 70th St. at year-end, it wants the SLA to let it operate 14 bars on-site. Instead, it plans to operate only one permanent alcohol-serving restaurant, with temporary bars for special events only. Meanwhile, the museum’s “temp” home at the Frick Madison–sans bar–closes on March 3.

| 07 Feb 2024 | 04:14

Rumors have been bubbling about the $160 million renovation of The Frick Collection on E. 70th St., although they have less to do with fine art than with fine wine. After Community Board 8 gave its advisory stamp of approval on Jan. 25–by an overwhelming vote of 39-2–to the Frick’s plan of acquiring a liquor license, certain news outlets became convinced that they were seeking to open 14 regular bars on-site as part of the museum’s remodeling.

Instead, as Time Out originally pointed out on Jan. 31, the Frick is seeking a license that will encompass only one permanent alcohol-serving restaurant. Any other bars would be wheeled out for special events programming, and would not be available during regular museum hours. In other words, patrons will not be able to get 3 p.m. cocktail refills near a Bellini painting.

Outside of the media confusion and CB8’s eventual massive “yes” vote, the Frick’s pursuit of a liquor license also attracted some good old-fashioned public vitriol in 2023. In a Dec. 8 “East Side Observer” column, Straus News columnist Arlene Kayatt reported on the “fireworks” that the subject generated at that month’s CB8 meeting.

Jonathan Bing, a former State Assembly Member, was representing the Frick’s interests on the matter. Ben Kallos, a former City Council Member, was representing the opposition. In a dramatic twist, Kyatt pointed out that Kallos used to be Bing’s chief of staff. By the end of meeting, the two former allies were flinging accusations and counterpoints at each other.

Meanwhile, the rest of the renovation marches on. It will boast new features such as: the opening of the second floor to the public, ADA-accessibility improvements, a 220-seat auditorium, an education center, and an expansion of the Frick’s library arm. It is anticipated to be finished by the end of 2024, although no set date has been given. [Given the long delays in getting approval for a new liquor license from the State Liquor Authority, there is even no guarantee that one will come through in time for a grand reopening.]

The opening of new gallery rooms on the second floor is a distinctly modernizing touch, considering that it used to house Henry Clay Frick’s living quarters. The museum’s namesake was a wealthy steel and coke manufacturing baron, and the Frick Collection–established in 1935–is only one part of the mansion known as the Henry Clay Frick House. The aforementioned Frick Reference Library was founded by Frick’s daughter Helen in 1920, a year after his death at the age of 69.

Despite the expensive renovation of the Collection’s original space, it’s been hosting exhibitions at the historic Breuer building (MoMA, Whitney) on Madison Ave. since 2021. However, given the anticipated wrap-up of the UES renovation, these exhibits will close in under a month on Mar. 3. In other words, if readers want to check out the Frick Madison, they should go now.

That museum’s current “Nicolas Party and Rosalba Carriera” exhibit is a cross-pollination of eighteenth-century and contemporary art. It features an array of juxtaposed pastel paintings, and according to the museum “focuses on themes of concealment and disclosure.”