East Village Restaurant Luke's Lobster Takes Liquor License Fight to Pages of GQ

By Patrick Hedlund on August 23, 2010 3:01pm 

Luke's Lobster on E. Seventh Street in the East Village.
Luke's Lobster on E. Seventh Street in the East Village.
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Flickr/Lucius Kwok

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

EAST VILLAGE — What are a pair of local restaurateurs to do when they get frustrated with jumping through hoops to get a liquor license for their popular new seafood joint?

In the case of Luke’s Lobster, the sliver of a sandwich shop on East Seventh Street, the answer is not just to duke it out with the local community board — but instead vent your frustration to the readers of a national men’s fashion magazine.

Ben Conniff, who runs Luke’s Lobster with partner Luke Holden, penned an article for GQ detailing the arduous process he went through in hopes of securing a license to serve booze in Manhattan.

“Homer Simpson wisely noted that beer is ‘the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems,’” Conniff wrote in Luke Holden’s “Maine Men” blog series for GQ.com. “But Homer clearly never dealt with the New York State Liquor Authority, a marvel of bureaucracy where problems abound and solutions go to die.”

He then goes on to describe his quest for the much sought-after license, which involved clearing the hurdles of the community board, the State Liquor Authority, the Department of Buildings and ultimately an attorney.

“Unlike the legal system, which makes decisions based on objective analysis of evidence, community boards prefer to rule by arbitrary gut feelings,” Conniff wrote of his experience in dealing with Community Board 3’s notoriously fickle liquor license committee.

“In January I watched the board tear apart the underdressed owner of a family pizza restaurant because of a paperwork error he made five years ago. When it was my turn to go before the board, I wore a tie. Approved!”

Conniff, 25, explained that he is still waiting for word from the SLA on a license for his East Village eatery, as well as another for a Luke’s Lobster outpost on the Upper East Side.

“We didn’t expect it to be easy, but we did not expect to do so many little things that are useless,” he told DNAinfo, noting that the restaurant had to spend several hundred dollars to put public notices in local newspapers to advertise the applications. 

“We didn’t expect all the little hurdles that do no good for anyone.”

As for Community Board 3 — which met last week to review its policies for approving or denying liquor licenses in the nightlife-heavy Lower East SideConniff is still sour about the pizza purveyor he saw turned down for a license.

“As soon as they get passionate about somebody, they’ll just argue for hours and hours,” he said of the board. “It’s just so arbitrary.”

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