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Late-Night Noshers Not Welcome on Bedford Avenue Block, Neighbors Say

By Sonja Sharp | September 20, 2012 8:05am

CROWN HEIGHTS — To hear the neighbors tell it, Catfish Bar and Restaurant is about to be the most popular spot in Crown Heights. If and when it finally lands its liquor license, that is.

"They think this place is going to be a crazy party house," co-owner Maxx Colson said of his Bedford Avenue venture, one of two new restaurants set to open near the intersection of Park Place this fall on a block of mostly empty storefronts just east of bustling Franklin Avenue.

But while Cafe Rue Dix just steps south breezed through its State Liquor Authority application, the New Orleans-inflected Cajun eatery remains locked in a contest of wills with the neighboring Rogers Avenue Block Association, which won an important battle this month after Community Board 8 voted to oppose the Catfish crew's liquor license.

"This community board is very gentle about what they move forward with. They’re obviously experiencing a massive flood of new business coming in," said chef and co-owner Luke Wheeler.

"This neighborhood really went through an amazing change. Now it’s going through a secondary change and I think some people are resistant to that."

The threesome — Wheeler, Colson and partner Aaron Giroux — said they've received strong support from close neighbors on Bedford Avenue who are already drooling over their beignets and vegan ratatouille. They even shaved an hour from their planned closing time of 3 a.m. weekdays and 4 a.m. weekends in an effort to appease anxious residents.

"If we had said we wanted to close at 11 we would have breezed right through," Giroux said. "We already made a sacrifice to 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. We thought that's pretty reasonable for a bar and restaurant to close in New York City."

The Rogers Avenue association disagreed. The small cohort of neighbors — who made their case to the Community Board earlier this month but did not return calls and emails for comment — came demanding the bar close even earlier than the 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. compromise proposed by the economic development committee.

"We were hurt and we were caught off guard," Colson said. "We’d spoken to them and had this meeting with them and everything seemed fine and they showed up protesting our liquor license application."

The owners said they're committed to staying open late for hungry locals who work odd hours — cops and EMTs, line cooks and waitresses and the like.

"I’ve always worked the graveyard shift, 16 years now going on 17," Wheeler said. "There’s no option for you to go out after work to get a hot meal. You're stuck with 24-hour fast food joints or just going home to warm up some soup."

Neighbor Katie Miller, 23, agreed. She stopped to sign a petition the Catfish crew had drafted to bring before the SLA at their upcoming hearing.

"We want to do this — it's not a requirement," Wheeler said of the petition. "We want to show that there’s definitely a need in the community, that people want us here."