CROWN HEIGHTS — Everything was ready: There were cases of Taj Mahal Lager stacked against the wall. New tiles on the bar. The smell of fresh paint.
For months, the sign advertising the new Bollywood Bar has hung over a roll-down gate next door to Bombay Masala on Franklin Avenue between Prospect Place and St. Marks Avenue. But while beer gardens and cafes sprout around it — some seemingly overnight — the popular Crown Heights restaurant's own dreams of expansion have become tangled in a nightmare of bureaucratic red tape.
"I'm in trouble," said Ahmed Karim of the $13,000 in fines he and his partners now owe the New York City Department of Buildings — fines they say must be settled before they can open the new establishment where they've paid rent for the better part of a year. "I don't know how I'll make it."
The nightmare started a little more than a month ago, when, with the bar nearly finished, Karim and his partners decided to install a backyard patio. It was the same type they'd seen lure diners to hip new establishments they'd help boost in their five years on the avenue. But in their excitement to improve the property, the owners overlooked a crucial detail.
"The problem is that we didn't understand to get approval from planning for the back garden," Karim said. "I got a violation, and now, until it's fixed, I can't get approval for the bar."
The Department of Building's websites shows a single violation for unapproved construction behind Bombay Masala, and a second for to the same construction assessed to the Bollywood Bar, both of which were to be heard by the Environmental Control Board Monday morning.
The Department of Buildings could not immediately determine the results of that hearing, which may not be released for up to 30 days.
"The building owner needs to either remove the deck or obtain permits to legalize the work," said Gloria Chin, a spokeswoman for the department.
To look at it, there's not much difference between the garden patio at Bombay Masala and the one down the block at The Candy Rush, or around the corner at Pete Zaaz. A raised wooden platform, circumscribed by a long wooden bench surrounds a handful of metal tables and an in-built bar. Trellises hang with garlands of silk flowers. A fountain burbles.
But the stray tabby cat lounging in the corner may be the only one ever to enjoy it: According to the owners, their $15,000 investment must be torn down.
"In the beginning, the backyard was really dirty, but I made it nice," Karim said. "We didn't know an approval would be that kind of big trouble."
Karim said that he and his partners made a simple mistake, but that the bureaucracy surrounding their problem is so complex they're not sure how to fix it.
"We have a small business, we're trying to change this neighborhood," Karim said. "On the one hand, they say they're helping small businesses, but on the other hand they don't give you any chance."