When we heard Cha Cha’s was being forced out of the new Phony Island along with eight other businesses, we knew there was only one man to call: the “Unofficial Mayor of Little Italy,” John “Cha Cha” Ciarcia. He told us just what we wanted to hear: Tomorrow, he plans to meet with a lawyer to find a way to fight what he describes as a “criminal act” and a “conspiracy.”
Cha Cha says that over the summer, around June or July, Central Amusement told him they were planning to renew his lease: “They told me they were going to give me [a renewal for] three [years], three, and three — nine years.” He says a French company that was handling Central Amusement’s food and beverage program asked him to submit a business plan and he did so, promising to spend half a million dollars turning his dive into “the lost city of Atlantis, with live music and entertainment and food.”
“It sounded like a sure thing,” Cha Cha says of Central Amusement’s initial assurances of renewal. “They probably told us that because if they told us they were going to throw us out, we wouldn’t pay the rent. Which I’m sorry I paid the rent.” (In the nine years he’s operated the bar, rent has gone up from $15,000 to $100,000.) Sure enough, Cha Cha received a notice via FedEx telling him he had twelve days to vacate, but he says emptying the bar of all of its kitsch would be “impossible” in that time. “I’m not going to get out without a fight,” he says. And he says that the operators of Ruby’s, Shoot the Freak, the Grill House, and Gregory & Paul’s are joining him in speaking to a lawyer (Cha Cha also operates Beer Island).
Lauryn Chinnici, a waitress at the Mulberry Street and Coney locations of Cha Cha’s, told us, “My heart is broken. I want to break down and cry. They’re going to try to turn it into A.C., but what they don’t understand is it’s an urban community and the urban is not going to move out of that community. Bloomberg does not go to bat for the people that live here and it’s all about the tourists and what they can bring in.” Cha Cha agrees: “Coney Island is the poor man’s paradise, and they’re full of baloney about making it a year-round amusement park. Unless they’re going to dome it, it’ll never be year-round. If these people think they’re going to go in there and pay year-round rent, it ain’t going to happen.” Citing boardwalk rumors presumably based on a Daily News item back in August, Cha Cha says, “To throw out people who’ve been there in order to bring in newcomers like Atomic Wings and Shake Shack is not the thing to do.”
Okay, but what if it happens? Will Cha Cha’s at least reopen for a good-bye party?
“I don’t know if we’re going to say good-bye to the place,” says Cha Cha. “I’m going to leave that to the judge.”