Crown Group Hospitality New York City
Diners at The Lion in the West Village always ask about the building and what used to be there before the restaurant. The staff love to tell them: In the 1920s and 30s it was a speakeasy, and it eventually gained notoriety as a spot where Mae West and Barbra Streisand performed on the balcony.
"I've always had a fondness for older buildings," says Sean Largotta, CEO of Crown Group Hospitality,
The charm of the old building on the corner of West 9th Street and Sixth Avenue appealed immediately to Largotta and his partners, Mark Amadei and John DeLucie. "I grew up Italian, worked overseas, and love Old World architecture, as well as buildings that have great history and structural bones," Largotta explains.
The partners fast-tracked the remodel and the Lion roared to life in May 2012, representing Crown Group Hospitality's first building and restaurant venture together.
The building's century-old structure required some finagling. In the speakeasy era, the kitchen was on the second floor, but Crown Group Hospitality transferred it downstairs and refashioned it to reflect the old New York-style—open and visible to diners—and that, too, required considerable design efforts. A mechanical engineer came in to determine the building's capacity to support the tonnage and wattage demands of high-performance equipment; a steel beam had to be added to the balcony, since it wasn't up to code; and the HVAC required a new system on the roof.
"This renovation actually posed more of a challenge to us," Largotta says. "The piping was archaic and hadn't been touched in 40 years, so the challenge was to get the building up to code and also restore it very carefully."
Today, the salon-inspired dining room lends itself to hearty comfort foods. The walls are delightfully smothered in more than 60 framed artworks, from a close-up of Andy Warhol to photos of historic criminal families lifted from the New York Daily News archives.
Despite the extensive work, Largotta says the project was rewarding on many levels. "For me, I love to curate spaces, not just create them."