On the western frontier of SoHo, the Moondance Diner is dancing off into the sunset: Along with an adjacent two-story parking garage and a parking lot, it is going to be developed into luxury residential condominiums.
The Moondance Diner's incandescent, crescent-shaped sign is a beacon for hungry visitors roaming north of Canal Street amid a Hopper-esque landscape not far from the mouth of the Holland Tunnel. The late-night watering hole has appeared in episodes of "Friends" and "Sex and the City," and it was where Peter Parker's girlfriend, Mary Jane, played by Kirsten Dunst, waited tables in the 2002 film "Spider-Man." In real life, playwright Jonathan Larson ("Rent") worked at the diner.
The development is among several changes taking place in the neighborhood, which is characterized by low-slung buildings along Sixth Avenue that are attracting private investment. "SoHo'sdevelopment is moving westward," the director of the SoHo Alliance, a neighborhood organization, Sean Sweeney, said. The site of a former Mobil gas station farther north, at Spring Street, is also slated for development. About a block west, Donald Trump Jr. has plans for a 45-story condominium. An executive director of Eastern Consolidated, Eric Anton, who was a broker of the Moondance site, said the property was up for sale for about three months until the owners — a joint venture that includes developer Gary Barnett — decided to develop it themselves. Calls yesterday to Extell Development Corporation, which is headed by Mr. Barnett, were not returned. Mr. Barnett is also assembling a site three blocks north at 176 Avenue of the Americas, where a Sleepy's store is situated.
"There are not going to be any more diners," the owner of Moondance Diner, Sunil "Sunny" Sharma, said. Inside the narrow restaurant, black-and-white photos of Yankees stars greet customers who come to enjoy milkshakes, handcut fries, homemade buttermilk onion rings, and burgers. The food is priced a bit higher than one might expect at a diner: Cole slaw is $2.95. He plans to discuss the possibility of opening the Moondance Diner anew on the commercial first floor of the residential building. In the meantime, he plans to hold on to the Moondance sign.
A representative of Hudson Island LLC, the owner of the property, told The New York Sun ground will be broken this year and the current buildings razed. He said plans for the property, which is about 11,330 square feet and may be as tall as nine stories, were still being finalized, and that the Board of Standards and Appeals had approved the plans to build a 66,734-square-foot residential building there.
Dick Blodgett of the Charlton Street Block Association did not comment on this building, but said the community is concerned that large buildings such as the one Mr. Trump is constructing at Spring and Varick streets are "outside the scale of the neighborhood." A member of the Van Dam Street Block Association, Silvia Beame, said, "We don't want to see the area become overdeveloped."
Mr. Anton described the western part of SoHo as "in my mind, a more attractive place to live" than the center of SoHo, which can be crowded on the weekends. He said that being a little bit on the edge of SoHo is very attractive. Mr. Sweeney said he is concerned about a continuing trend of losing parking spaces and adding buildings with more residents.
The executive director of the BSA, Jeff Mulligan, said the owners of the Moondance site received a variance for residential use. The city planning department spokeswoman said the area is ordinarily zoned for light manufacturing.
For the near future, hungry tourists and residents will be able to continue enjoying the Moondance Diner, whose seats run along a corridor on which the words "Eat Here" are writ large. Mr. Sharma said he had his wedding celebration about five years ago at the diner. Come next year, instead of enjoying the food, new residents in the condominium may have to settle for kicking up their heels to Van Morrison's "Moondance":
"Well, it's a marvelous night for a moondance
With the stars up above in your eyes
A fantabulous night to make romance
'neath the cover of October skies."