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Michelin-Starred Dovetail Restaurant Inaccessible to Disabled, Critics Say

By Emily Frost | August 29, 2012 2:11pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — The Michelin-rated Dovetail restaurant has a wheelchair-accessible bathroom, but good luck getting to it.

The tony eatery was among the 42 bars and restaurants in the area that were found to be not accessible to those in wheelchairs or other disabilities in a survey of 100 area establishments by Citizens for an Accessible West Side (CAWS). Dovetail, which had no ramps to get into the restaurant, has also located its bathroom at the bottom of a flight of stairs.

"I was shocked that some of the little stairs and hallways that I never think twice about can actually prevent someone else in my community from dining at specific restaurants," Alison Flom, a teen volunteer who was among those who visited more than 100 restaurants between West 60th and West 90th streets, started viewing her neighborhood differently after the survey.

At least 42 of the restaurants and bars surveyed were deemed inaccessible, including neighborhood favorites like Fred's, Ocean Grill, Cafe Luxembourg, Rigoletto and Spiga, and put them on an online map that allows patrons to decide where to go for a bite or a drink without having to send their friends or relatives to scope it out ahead of time.

David Gagnon, maitre d' of Dovetail, said "we are aware of those [accessibility] issues and try to do the best we can." 

Gagnon said the landmark status of the building prevented the owners from adding a ramp, but that because there are so few entryway stairs, "we are usually able to assist people with a wheelchair."

Volunteers plan to canvass more Upper West Side restaurants this fall as part of a collaboration with the Center for Independence of Disabled, New York (CIDNY) and hope to eventually map accessibility across the whole city. 

Group co-founder and Community Board 7 member Mel Wymore said he acknowledged that the ADA certification can be rigorous and expensive.

"Some restaurants can't afford that," he said, adding later, "and many can't be accessible because of the physical limitations of the space. Dovetail is one of those." 

But, there are workarounds he hopes restaurants will adopt once they become more aware of the issue. When Wymore and the group met at the Greek restaurant Loi on West 70th Street at Amsterdam Avenue, it put out a portable ramp over its three steps making it easy to wheel in. 

"Places you wouldn't have thought are accessible actually are," he said.

Elisabeth de Bourbon, director of communications at the Landmarks Preservation Commission, said the restaurant's location in a landmarked building wouldn't necessarily hinder its ability to be ADA compliant.

"We review and approve ramps and means of access all the time. They are not by any means prohibited by the landmarks law," she said. 

In the past, de Bourbon said, the commission has approved lifts, permanent ramps and temporary ramps outside landmarked buildings. 

"They just have to come to us for a permit."

The group checks whether restaurants and bars are ramped or have a no-step entrance with an entry door at least 36 inches wide, room to maneuver a wheelchair and scooter within the space, as well as seating that accommodates wheelchair and scooter users, and accessible bathrooms. 

The goal, said Wymore, is "to have covered the core of the West Side and by the end of the year to have surveyed every restaurant and bar." 

"This knowledge is very important to people with mobility issues. They have to know in advance that the restaurant is in accessible before they leave their home — so they don’t waste their time," he said.

Wymore said he hopes the information will prompt businesses to make changes. 

"There are people who can't socialize because they don’t know what’s accessible," Wymore saod.

Bianca Neuman from CIDNY said the Center has enlisted the help of the Human Rights Commission to grow the project.

"We see it as an opportunity to educate business owners, engage community members, and simplify socializing for individuals with disabilities," she said.