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Closing Time May Come Two Hours Earlier at Harlem Bars

By Jeff Mays | December 12, 2011 5:24pm

HARLEM — A Central Harlem community board is consdering a plan to require all new bars and restaurants to stop serving liquor at 2 a.m., two hours earlier than normal.

The proposal has divided Community Board 10 down the middle. Some members believe the requirement would put new businesses at a competitive disadvantage to established businesses that can serve alcohol until 4 a.m. Others want to get a grip on Harlem's bar boom before things get out of hand as in the East Village and Lower East Side, where a near tripling of DWI arrests was blamed on growing nightlife in the area.

"I think we have way too many liquor establishments," said Hazel Dukes, a board member.

Several new bars and restaurants have sprouted on Frederick Douglas Boulevard below West 125th Street and on Lenox Avenue between 125th and 130th streets in the past couple of years.

The number of requests for liquor licenses has grown steadily within CB 10. Previously, there would be one or two requests for liquor licenses per month. Recently, they've been getting anywhere from four to six a month. In November, the board voted on three liquor licenses.

"I think it makes sense with the direction we are going in to slow down," said CB 10 member George Williams. "I feel 2 a.m. is long enough. We want to protect the quality of life that can get out of hand because of the number of restaurants serving liquor."

CB 10 chair Henrietta Lyle said the economic development committee has been asked to gather data to justify their concerns in case the full board decides to take up the issue. Lyle said bar owners should be able to know the board's preference because it will impact where they decide to open.

"We have to look at our community. On the one hand, people really want the nightlife here because it brings a light to the neighborhood," said Lyle. "But I also understand the concerns of people living here."

Some members of the business community are not in favor of the possible change.

"It's not good for business," said Harlem Tavern co-owner Sherri Wilson-Daly. "If this is the only neighborhood that closes at 2 a.m., then people will go outside this community and spend money. If the State Liquor Authority says 4 a.m. then it should be 4 a.m."

While 4 a.m. is the legal closing time, community boards in bar-heavy neighborhoods like Murray Hill have been limiting new bars to earlier closing times, much to the dismay of some drinking establishments.

Nikoa Evans-Hendricks, a founder of Harlem Park to Park, a Central Harlem business alliance, said limiting the liquor licenses by two hours would spell disaster for many Harlem establishments.

"The bulk of business is done Thursday to Sunday. Many Harlem bars and restaurants have to do in four days what bars and restaurants downtown have seven days to accomplish," said Evans-Hendricks. "If we are trying to market part of Harlem as a nightlife neighborhood, what's the point if establishments shut down at 2 a.m.?"

Many Harlem bars and restaurants do good business after 1 a.m. when people are returning home from restaurants or events downtown and looking for places that are still open. Places like Harlem Tavern and 67 Orange see a 1 a.m. rush, said Evans-Hendricks whose husband works at 67 Orange.

And after years of working to develop nightlife in Harlem to attract residents, tourists and people from other neighborhoods, limiting the hours of operations would be a step backward, she said.

CB 10 Member Manny Rivera agreed, and added that he would need to see solid proof that the closing time of bars and restaurants affected crime and quality of life.

"If we say we want these businesses to pay a living wage and then we are going to cut into their profits that's a problem," Rivera said. "It also gives an unfair advantage to existing businesses. Why should new businesses be penalized?"