Sanctuary Speakeasy Dumped On Roosevelt Island: Two Year Update


A year ago, a Hudson-Related promoted vendor said they planned dumping a speakeasy and outdoor beer garden in public park space on Roosevelt Island. Nearing completion, The Sanctuary gets uglier than initially feared. Here’s our update.

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

UPDATE, APRIL 2021: The Sanctuary’s owner told the Roosevelt Islander that a “soft opening” is on tap for May. But a check of the city database shows nothing registered with the Dept. of Health as legally required. As previously noted, similarly, we’ve been unable to find any record of building permits.

Even so and inspite of resident complaints, RIOC has allowed operations to continue, apparently under the influence of Hudson Companies, which oversees retail developments on Roosevelt Island.

Radical Remake: Encroaching On A Fire Lane and a Playground

One persistent issue has been the absence of legally required Department of Buildings permits for the work. A check today shows that no permits have ever been applied for or approved for 851 Main Street.

As we reported earlier, extensive interior renovations appear in violation of legal requirements. No permits are visible anywhere on the site, and RIOC, where the Public Safety Department claims it enforces local laws, is fully aware at the highest levels.

Here’s a video we captured of RIOC fearlessly confronting The Sanctuary over its lack of compliance:

Impossible without “cooperation” from RIOC administration and board of enablers directors

Worries about the outdoor beer garden and party activities encroaching on Octagon Park and children’s playgrounds were not just confirmed, but escalated.

All green space previously giving the old church a country feel is being paved over, and the planned party area now borders the fire lane, a short 30 feet from the playground.

This fire lane, lacking stop signs and any other safety features, is not up to speed for commercial traffic, and the playground is just a rock’s throw from the paved over party space.

RIOC Negligence Welcomed COVID-19 Violations While Everyone Else Shut Down

Construction halted almost everywhere, going along with Governor Cuomo’s executive order, but The Sanctuary sped up. No social distancing or face masks. Building permits not visibly posted anywhere, if they have them at all.

In the process of dumping the speakeasy on Roosevelt Island, builders ignored permits and social distancing. All with RIOC's implicit approval.
Construction on The Sanctuary during the coronavirus lockdown… without masks, social distancing or interference from RIOC’s Public Safety.

Who’s protecting The Sanctuary from violations as they build their outdoor beer garden adjacent to once safe parks and playgrounds?

About Hudson’s Strange Plan To Build an Outdoor Beer Garden and Speakeasy

Late last summer, Hudson’s plan to dump a speakeasy in Roosevelt Island park space capped a day of changes. Just as RIOC stepped up to protect residents, Hudson released plans to damage the community. Again.

“The lights are coming back on at a spooky, nearly century-old Roosevelt Island church — not for prayer, but for partying.”

Hudson Sanctuary Speakeasy/Outdoor Beer Garden Under Construction
Work on the Sanctuary Speakeasy and Outdoor Beer Garden (Left) in park space accelerated during the lockdown that everyone else respected.

That’s the lede from a story in the New York Post, last September.

And it gets worse.

Adding to their stealth initiative to dump a speakeasy in Roosevelt Island park space, Hudson leaned on The Post for happy face reporting without a local press release.

“This beautiful, historic building has been a place of comfort and celebration for nearly 100 years. As it lay vacant, we knew it had potential to bring even more memories to this community … while maintaining the historical integrity of this incredible structure.”

Hudson Companies’ project manager Alexandra Kaplan

Clueless, but that’s how Hudson explains unloading a speakeasy never discussed with anyone living here.

Developing, Hudson plans to dump a speakeasy in Roosevelt Island park space.
Before news of Hudson’s plan to dump a speakeasy in park space, repurposing an historic church, RIOC president Susan Rosenthal and Public Safety acting director Kevin Brown followed up on our report.

But First, The Sanctuary Event Space

“Sanctuary Event Space” split the seams on Roosevelt Island for the first time with a low profile. Tuesday, someone plastered posters on kiosks about a fundraiser for the Titan Theatre Company.

“…at The Sanctuary, 851 Main Street, Roosevelt Island.”

Hudson “leased the former Dayspring Church and is turning it into a health-focused, speakeasy-style bistro, cocktail bar, alfresco beer garden and an event space for community and nonprofit use,” according to the Post.

Before that shock settled in, The Daily discovered a second event already planned: “an intimate pop-up dinner on New York’s most intimate island,” on October 14th.

“La Nueva Mesa kicks off a pop-up dinner series with a wine-paired six-course locally sourced plant based meal,” we found, and it’s only $125 a pop.

Hudson dumps a speakeasy on Roosevelt Island. What’s wrong with that?

Just about everything.

Location, location, location… Isn’t that what real estate is supposed to be about?

The former Dayspring Church sits on a plot connecting Octagon Park, adjacent playgrounds, the soccer field and an exercise park along the West Promenade.

But Hudson thinks this is a great spot for an outdoor beer garden.

It will take away the pleasures of the parks and make the whole area less safe.

RIOC Steps In

Hudson failed to notify it’s partner, RIOC, a State agency, before signing off to dump a speakeasy in Roosevelt Island. After we broke the story, they acted.

A critical concern, among many others, is that vehicle access to The Sanctuary is only possible by driving through a fire lane. There is no stop sign at the end of the lane where it meets the Promenade.

A fire lane bordered by a playground and a park...

The single vehicle access route to The Sanctuary is a fire line bordered by a park, a playground and a daycare center, without sidewalks or lane striping.

No active road exists, and the fire lane, bordered by a park, a playground and a daycare center, doesn’t have sidewalks or lane striping. Worse yet, you get to that only after driving through The Octagon’s parking lot, never intended for two-way traffic.

Earlier, we asked Hudson president David Kramer how he planned to handle the traffic issues.

He didn’t answer. Probably couldn’t. Not his problem.

He just collects the rent on behalf of Hudson and partner Related, which funnels part of it to Trump’s campaign.

RIOC Forced To Act on Short Notice

“After considering the site, PSD will not be allowing any parking at the site of the event,” RIOC told the Daily, late yesterday. “All existing fire lanes and roadways will be kept clear during the event. Anyone who drives to the event will have to park in Motorgate.

“PSD will be on hand to monitor the situation,” RIOC adds, setting up an Uber turnaround away from the venue so as to minimize traffic congestion. PSD will also monitor noise levels during the event. Anyone who has a complaint, contact PSD directly at 212-832-4545.”

That effectively handles one event, but others are coming along with the detestable intrusion of a speakeasy and an outdoor beer garden on our Parks.

Hudson dumps a speakeasy on Roosevelt Island: Other issues

Top of the list: The Sanctuary’s operators have not applied for required licenses but are going full steam ahead anyway.

A search of the city Department of Buildings database does not reveal an occupancy permit, not even an application. And no building permit for construction either.

Both event announcements promise alcohol, not unexpectedly, but there is no license for it.

A well-informed source tells us that “…any venue in the City that intends to distribute or sell alcohol as part of its commercial operation requires at the very least a beer and wine license from the State Liquor Control Board.”

The SLC relies on Community Board 8’s review and recommendation, but The Sanctuary has not appeared before CB8.

Being “..on Roosevelt Island does not negate this requirement,” our source concludes.

Conclusion: About Hudson’s plan to dump a speakeasy in Roosevelt Island…

There’s far more wrong than right with this poorly thought out assault on Roosevelt Island’s quality of life.

RIOC cannot be leaned on repeatedly to insure safety where a business owner disregards it. Especially as the owners appear to be politically connected and protected.

It’s impossible to see how this location can ever be suitable for a speakeasy or outdoor beer garden.

Imagine tipsy revelers wandering into the parks and along the seawall.

Who cleans up? Who prosecutes the inevitable crimes as we welcome public urination over the seawall?

RIOC deals with the immediate traffic issues, but what about licensing?

It’s clear that Hudson doesn’t care about the quality of life degradation it’s forcing on residents, but laws and regulations are there for a reason.

Someone, hopefully RIOC, maybe The Octagon, needs to step up and say, “Not here, not on Roosevelt Island.”

Before it’s too late.

Also from Assorted Ideas, Large and Small

Queensboro Bridge East River

Queensboro Bridge, East River, with Gulls, Roosevelt Island, Fine Art Photography Print/©Deborah Julian. All rights reserved.

Roosevelt Island Stuff…


  1. All your articles are never anything inspiring or positive. Everything is so negative, filled with complaints. Also, what does that picture of them filming have to do with this article? You must be a barrel of laughs at parties.

    • You apparently ignored the flurry of articles about Fall For Arts and Roy Eaton, this week. You see what you want to see and reach a biased conclusion. It’s not a picture of the filming of Prodigal. It’s RIOC’s president and acting PSD chief onsite at the “Sanctuary.” They just happened to be wrapping up after filming at the time, but that was unrelated. Sorry you didn’t bother reading the article. You might’ve learned something and not made these errors.

  2. No, I haven’t overlooked those articles and I appreciate you drawing attention to those events. However, a large portion of the articles posted on the Daily center around dealing with RIOC and the issues associated bureaucratic red tape, and also Hudson Related and their issues of filling the empty store fronts on Roosevelt Island.
    A group is willing to take a risk and start a business on Roosevelt Island, a place where you adeptly have reported many business have failed. Further, they have cleaned up and re-purposed an unsightly abandoned building. God forbid they circumnavigated the red tape that prevents anything from getting done here.
    I can see your concerns regarding the traffic around the Octagon, but an easy no-brainier solution is have a crossing/traffic guard posted at pedestrian crossing locations. Further, most travelers to (from the city at least), and most residents on Roosevelt Island are not going to be driving. The red bus stops in front of the Octogan, and the closest public street parking is on Main Street next to the future Jack McManus field. Minus the lucky few who are able to park in the handful of spots across from the Sanctuary – it seems like most people will be walking.
    Further, Roosevelt Island is an island – the concerns of an over-inebriated guest going over the seawall the same at the Sanctuary as it is at the old Riverwalk location. Further, public urination is a issue associated with any bar not just isolated issue that can occur here. I’m assuming the building has working plumbing.
    Public relations matter – and instead of bashing the group, why not try promoting the new location or celebrate the fact that they’re willing to take a risk here. Hopefully the Sanctuary is successful and can draw new people to Roosevelt Island.

    • This location is and always will be inappropriate for this or a similar purpose. It’s only 25 feet across a fire lane from a kids playground and picnic area. I doubt, by the way, that visitors are likely to be Roosevelt Islanders. The first two events are pitched to off-Islanders, and if Hudson was so interested in locals, how come they never did a local press release as they usually do? They’ve been trying to sneak it in without giving residents a voice.
      So, your idea of a solution is to have a crossing guard posted 24 hours a day? At whose expense? RIOC’s out of money we pay for PSD out of rents.
      In this remote space, who’s going to control noise from the outdoor beer garden? Cooking smells? Octagon residents already get a summer long drift of barbecue smells and sounds from the park without complaint, but those are only in the summer and quiet after sunset. Why should residents, dog walkers, kids and families be forced to tolerate Manhattan level noises and other disruptions? Have you noticed the Manhattan stink all weekend as garbage awaits pick up on Monday morning? Get ready for it here because the church is not on the AVAC system. Where will they park their dumpster, if they even bother? Over the weekend, I saw Sanctuary personnel dumping their trash in the public waste cans next to the playground. They haven’t even bothered to arrange trash pick up. That should make for a real treat tonight.
      And just for the record, the only reason The Sanctuary moved so fast is because they ignored all the rules, maybe hoping Hudson will help them skate by laws established to protect the rest of us. 1) They have no liquor license, although alcohol is on the menu attendees paid for, never even applied yet; 2) they’ve never posted a building permit; 3) they have no occupancy permit and 4) there has been no FDNY inspection. If these guys are so great, why don’t they play by the rules the rest of us honor?
      I’ll repeat. This is a completely inappropriate use of the space. Hudson knows it, and that’s why they were so sneaky. The area was never intended or designed for this kind of use, and both Hudson and the owners – plus RIOC if they don’t act to stop it – are abusing the privilege of being a part of this community.

      • Why would you need a crossing guard posted for 24 hours a day? Just during operating hours when the business is open. Further, the business should be providing this similar to a bouncer or security. The fire lane is used all day by deliveries to the Octagon building without any crossing guards – there doesn’t seem to be any issues.
        NYC Local Law 113 requires quiet hours from 10 PM to 7 am – so if the noise emitting from the outdoor beer garden is above the allowable limits during that time frame residents should call 311, Public Safety or the 114th Pct. The Bohemian Beer Garden, in not too far away Astoria, would be a good example of how the outdoor area can function. It is in a residential neighborhood and is able to maintain a good relationship with its neighbors and be a center of the community.
        Who would complain about the smells of a BBQ or people outside enjoying the park in the summer, really? This a moot point. Most bar restaurants close the kitchen around 10 PM anyways. Residents are significantly more likely to be agitated by the smells and noises coming from the apartment next to them.
        I never said they were great, nor do I necessarily agree with them proceeding without permits if they were required. However, I think it is a lot more common than you would like to believe that a business opened with permits pending or incomplete.
        While it is your opinion it’s a complete inappropriate use of the space. It appears that Hudson’s opinion, who develops real estate for a living, it isn’t. Again, a business is opening on Roosevelt Island in an abandoned building. How are the rest of the empty store fronts doing? It’s not a coincidence that they store fronts close and stay closed. Roosevelt Island is not the most viable location to operate any business. Hudson doesn’t have an easy job promoting Roosevelt Island as a viable business location. Like you have mentioned many times, there’s many grand openings, grand closings here.
        Again, you have raised some concerns, albeit in this reader’s opinion minor concerns, but nevertheless they all seem very solvable. Some of the concerns are just the nature of living in the metropolitan area and are frankly unavoidable.

  3. As you are clearly a Hudson-Related plant doing the bidding for the owners who’ve been hiding, I’m not going to bother replying to you anymore. My arguments are clear in the articles written, and now, you’ve had your piece. Enough of these weak rationalizations for inappropriate behavior, an ongoing feature of Hudson-Related’s tenure here.

  4. On the contrary, I have absolutely nothing to do with Hudson-Related. I merely playing devil’s advocate as a neutral third party member to point out some of the flaws in your agenda ridden logic. Rather than engage in logic based discussion, provide your own input or solution you elect to take the easy route: sit there, point fingers and stomp your feet.

  5. Sorry. No sale. You never commented on anything else and only sprang to life as a follower when you rushed to defend Hudson-Related. It’s the single interest you’ve shown, and you bend over backwards to rationalize to their defense. Sorry, nobody does that as a neutral third party. It doesn’t work like that.

    • Typical reply of yours. People make good arguments that don’t agree with yours and you turn them into a conspiracy against you and your so-called reporting. Remember the time you. claimed that nobody showed up to an event at the Sanctuary and when pictures about that event emerged on social media (some even posted by your neighbors) you claimed they are all fake? We get it, you don’t like them. But smearing them just because you have a problem is from the Trumpian playbook and you are really absolutely no better them him.

      • Well, Greg, anyone is free to comment as long as they don’t slander anyone or use excess profanity. And whether you like it or not, that includes you and me.
        “Remember the time you. claimed that nobody showed up to an event at the Sanctuary and when pictures about that event emerged on social media (some even posted by your neighbors) you claimed they are all fake?”
        No. That never happened, but there was one time when they claimed a large number of people showed up, but the photos showed far fewer. I called them on it.
        Who said I “don’t like them?” I don’t like the way they’ve gone about their business, oblivious to the community and its interests. Otherwise, they seem like good, hardworking people. They’re just trying to force something that could be great in an inappropriate location.
        Ah, “the Trumpian playbook,” this year’s all purpose attack line. Publishing the facts is hardly “smearing” anyone. And I don’t think for a minute that I’m “better than him.” I disagree with him, too, but that’s not smearing him either.
        People have a right to express their opinions. Even when we disagree. Especially when we disagree.

  6. This is infuriating. I was kept awake already by loud music coming from that space, till 4am, and I’m on a high floor of Manhattan Park. This is a quiet, residential, park-filled part of RI and that church is surrounded by apartments (filled by people who moved here for, yep, the peace and quiet). You are 100% correct that it’s a totally inappropriate place for this business. It should go.

    • Thank you. I hope you and others who feel this way will make their feelings known to RIOC and Governor Cuomo. Without their compliance and willingness to look the other way in favoring a real estate giant, this cannot go on.
      Thanks, again.

  7. Yeah this really was such a genius idea in the middle of a residential area. Since it is right outside my window Im really gonna love this- NOT. What I liked was the peace on RI, but recently a big highway light has been installed shining in my window like space invaders at night and now this. Just great. REALLY NOT happy.

    • Yes, it does come off as brainless and greedy, completely oblivious to the neighborhood. The future’s unclear, but so far, we’ve forced them to restrain the traffic and noise. Whether we can hold them there permanently is another question. There appears to be political connections with Governor Cuomo, which may explain RIOC’s reluctance to control them.
      Stay tuned.

  8. I’m no island veteran, but as a late 20s resident of Manhattan Park for 3+ years I think the speakeasy / beer garden is a good idea.
    I do think it could happen while respecting the peaceful and family-friendly island atmosphere. The new occupants should indeed be cognizant of the noise issue, and both keep music at a reasonable level and only have outdoor seating on the south side away from the Octagon. I think if it’s executed well, that this would not hurt the island atmosphere, but instead bring life to a space that otherwise will likely sit dormant.
    My hope is actually that this space could become a beautiful and warm gathering spot for the island community (and yes, of course, the occasional off-islanders who hear about it and are willing to make the trek). As someone fairly in-the-know of city speakeasy and hospitality business, I don’t anticipate this place being flooded with off-islanders with much consistency after the initial launch).
    I don’t know the folks who have begun leasing the space, but hopefully they might start to approach it with a sensibility akin to Coach Scott with Main Street Sweets (I was sad to see it close), and make this new venture an establishment that exists FOR the island and in celebration of it. I do think this is quite possible.

    • Tell it to someone whose children use a playground 50 feet away. If the owners were had any sensibility, they’d have come in with some community outreach or staged early events that weren’t so loud the police were called at 5:00 a.m., clogging up a fire lane with illegal parking. Like their godfathers at Hudson Related, they’ve shown a willingness to to as little as they are forced to do to respect community standards.

  9. Theres nothing to worry about. Its too far to draw people from off the island. And the island doesnt have enough people to sustain it. Gone in six months unless its just a laundering scheme of some kind.

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