HARLEM — The owners of two of Harlem's most popular restaurants told Community Board 10 on Thursday that a proposal to stop restaurants and bars from serving liquor after 2 a.m. could stunt the neighborhood's culinary explosion.
The owners of Ristorante Settepanni and Chez Lucienne, both located on a stretch of Lenox Avenue between 120th and 130th Street that is increasingly becoming a dining destination, said the idea being explored by the board's economic development committee would hurt Harlem at a time when more restaurants are attracted to the neighborhood.
"I see progress in Harlem. Things are getting better," said Alain Chevreux, who owns Chez Lucienne with wife Nadine.
Since the French bistro opened a few years ago, Chevreux said he has gone from shutting down the kitchen at 11 p.m. to closing at 1 a.m. because of growing interest in Harlem's restaurant scene.
"Now there is a reason why we can stay open later. Now, I'm not alone. We have a few restaurants in our area," he said.
The board began considering the early closing proposal out of concern over the growing number of liquor license applications, DNAinfo first reported in December. Recently, the number of monthly liquor license applications has jumped from one or two to four to six.
Frederick Douglass Boulevard below 125th Street has experienced a bar and restaurant boom, as has upper Lenox Avenue. The board wants to get a handle on the hours establishments serve liquor because they fear an increase in problems similar to that of the Lower East Side and the East Village.
Officials in the East Village blamed a near tripling of DWI arrests on the area's healthy nightlife. Community Board 6 officials have also sought to push up closing time. Lower East side officials have moved to tighten liquor license transfer rules.
With Ristorante Settepani and Chez Lucienne before the Economic Development Committee to renew their liquor and sidewalk cafe licenses, committee chair Beatrice Sibblies used the opportunity to query restaurateurs about the idea.
"How much business do you get between 2 and 4 a.m.," she asked Ristorante Settepanni co-owner Leah Abraham.
Abraham said that her clientele would not be out at 2 a.m.
"We've not been open because we've been alone. At times when people on the streets are sparse, I don't want to be open," said Abraham.
But Abraham said she thinks the proposal is a bad idea.
"I'm not against business being open until 4 a.m. If I had business at 2 a.m. I would stay open," said Abraham. "Do I think other businesses might be hurt if they can't stay open later? Yes."
Abraham said eateries such as Red Rooster Harlem, which not only has a late-night drinking crowd but whose overflow also provides business to other restaurants, might be affected by the plan. A bigger issue facing businesses like hers and the newly-opened Auberge Laurent on the Lenox Avenue corridor is the inability to get full liquor licenses because so many churches are within close range.
Auberge Laurent owner Lawrence Page recently scuttled plans to open a Harlem outpost of Village eatery The Pink Tea Cup at the 120th and Lenox Avenue location because he could only get a beer and wine license.
Harlem Tavern co-owner Sherri Wilson-Daly said she agreed to a 2 a.m. closing on the patio of her restaurant at Frederick Douglas Boulevard and 116th Street because of noise concerns, but fought for the later closing time inside the restaurant.
The proposal has divided the board, with some members supporting the approach of placing limits before there are issues and others worried about the chilling effect on businesses. CB 10 board member Manny Rivera believes the proposal would place Harlem businesses at a disadvantage.
"It takes way from what we want to do in the community in terms of economic development if we are talking about the ability of restaurants to pay a living wage," said Rivera.
"Instead of making a blanket policy we should say to individual establishments these are the practices we want you to follow if we are going to give you the opportunity to serve liquor," he added.
Chevreux said the flexibility to adjust the business hours that establishments are allowed to serve liquor should remain as Harlem's restaurant scene changes.
"Why would this area want to be closed earlier than other areas of Manhattan? Harlem needs the business," he said.