Murray Hill Community Board Cracking Down on Sidewalk Cafes Serving Booze

By Heather Holland on January 10, 2014 8:55am 

 CB6 started asking bar owners to prohibit customers from drinking outside without also ordering food.
CB6 started asking bar owners to prohibit customers from drinking outside without also ordering food.
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Dnainfo/Heather Holland

MURRAY HILL — If you want to sip a beer at a Murray Hill sidewalk cafe, you may soon have to order some food as well — thanks to a crackdown by the local community board.

Manhattan's Community Board 6 is trying to curb rowdy drinking crowds by asking restaurants in liquor-saturated areas like Third Avenue in the East 30s to bar customers from drinking alcohol outside unless they also order food.

"We hope to deter large groups of people drinking and/or getting rowdy on the street where it will likely have an impact on the community," said Nicole Paikoff, chairwoman of CB6's business affairs committee.

The committee — which is in charge of reviewing sidewalk cafe and liquor license applications — recently began asking businesses applying for sidewalk cafes to sign a stipulation agreeing to the new rule.

"We want people to be happy and make money and neighbors who like to sit outside to be able to do it," Paikoff said. "We just don't want to have an extra 20 people on the sidewalk."

But the board is meeting intense resistance from bar and restaurant owners, including Kenneth McCoy, who recently refused to sign the stipulation for the sidewalk cafe at his bar Pig 'N' Whistle at 497 Third Ave.

“We don't have that kind of rowdy crowd," McCoy told the business affairs committee at a meeting last month. "I won't do that. There’s no discussion.”

In the end, the committee agreed to support McCoy's sidewalk cafe license even though he wouldn't agree to the new rule, but only after McCoy promised to reduce the number of outdoor seats from 12 to 10 as a concession.

"They're not bad owners," Paikoff said of McCoy. "But we hear so many complaints in that area — the crowds and all that stuff. Put a sidewalk cafe on top of everything else and it's like extending the bar onto the sidewalk."

The community board plays an advisory role in sidewalk cafe applications and can ask for concessions, like reduced hours or seats, from business owners, but the Department of Consumer Affairs has the final say on awarding licenses.

A Consumer Affairs representative referred questions about CB6's new policy to the New York State Liquor Authority. The SLA said there are no laws stopping bars from serving drinks without food at licensed sidewalk cafes.

Several bar owners in Murray Hill worried that CB6's new rule, if enforced, would dampen business during the warmer months.

“It would really hurt us," said Mike Vassallo, a partner at Vino 313, at 201 E. 33rd St. at Third Avenue. "The majority of our business during the summer comes from people who want to enjoy a glass of wine outside.”

But Vassallo had an idea for getting around the rule.

“If that’s the case," he added, "I would just bring out some bread and get around it that way." 

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