Fire Damage May Shutter Caracas Arepa Bar for Up to a Year, Owner Says

DNA Info - September 23, 2016

by Allegra Hobbs

EAST VILLAGE — A fire that broke out at Caracas Arepa Bar early Wednesday morning has ravaged the popular restaurant’s kitchen and left the building without amenities, indefinitely shuttering the eatery to allow for repairs that could take up to a year, the founder and manager said.

The fire department first received a call at 2:22 a.m. from a tenant of an apartment above the restaurant at 93 E. Seventh St. reporting the smell of smoke, the FDNY said, but no fire was found during a roughly hourlong investigation and the smell quickly dissipated.

The department then received a call at 7:25 a.m. reporting smoke and arrived to find a fire in the building’s basement, according to the FDNY.

The fire was extinguished by 8:30 a.m., and though two patients received medical attention at the scene, there were no injuries, an FDNY spokesman said.

It is too early to say whether the cause of the scent hours earlier also caused the blaze, said an FDNY spokesman.

But the Venezuelan eatery did not escape unscathed.

The space is scorched and littered with debris, while the fire damage forced responders to shut off the the building’s water, gas and electricity to allow for repairs, said owner Maribel Araujo, who doesn’t expect to have the restaurant up and running any time soon.

“This can take six months to a year, I’d imagine, easily, but we don’t know,” she said. “Maybe we’ll relocate. I have no idea right now.”

However, the restaurant’s neighboring take-out space is still up and running, Araujo noted, adding she's confident she can keep the business afloat in the meantime.

“That’s where we started, so we know how to make it work,” she said, adding the eatery’s Brooklyn outpost provides additional space for food preparation if necessary. "We'll make it work."

A tenant of an apartment in the building said he woke up Wednesday morning to the commotion outside, as firemen were breaking his neighbors’ windows and evacuating tenants, and soon opened his door to find smoke from the flames below.

“I opened my door and it was filled with smoke,” said resident Michael Grant. “It was a lot — it was scary coming down.”

Though tenants’ windows are now boarded after firefighters smashed in the glass, the apartments are livable, Araujo said.

Neighboring restaurant Luke’s Lobster, which sits between Caracas’ dine-in and take-out spaces, has shuttered for the time being, according to a notice posted to Twitter.