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Liquor License Beef Leaves New Brooklyn Bistro in a Lurch

By Sonja Sharp | July 17, 2013 8:33am
  After rising from the ashes of Sunburnt Calf BK this spring, Hawker Bar serves drinks in liquor limbo.
Prospect Heights Hawker Bar Faces Liquor License Fight
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PROSPECT HEIGHTS — You don't have to go, but you can't serve here.

That's what Community Board 8 told Vanderbilt Avenue's brand new Hawker Bar, the South East Asian bistro that rose from the ashes of the Sunburnt Calf BK this summer — leaving the would-be bar/restaurant to serve its signature cocktails in liquor limbo. 

While the restaurant is owned and staffed by former employees of the Sunburnt Calf and its sister establishments in Manhattan, the new owners aren't named on the old liquor license, and the business operates under a different name in its dealings with the Department of State.

And this would make the bistro's happy hour effectively illegal. 

"If we license a corporation, we expect those corporate partners to be running the establishment," said New York State Liquor Authority spokesman William Crowley. "A new entity should not be running that establishment until they’re approved by the State Liquor Authority."

Hawker had hoped to inherit the Calf's license, as happened for the team when it took over a restaurant on the Upper West Side. Manhattan's Community Board 7 voted enthusiastically in support of that transfer.

Unfortunately for the restaurateurs, Brooklyn's Community Board 8 voted against the transfer with equal verve.

"How is it possible that I could be on the Upper West Side with exactly the same business practices and get a unanimous vote of approval and praise?" asked frustrated former owner Heathe St. Clair, who dissolved the restaurants after his flagship Sunburnt Cow was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy.

"We finally got our garden open, and now we go to get our liquor license and we’re denied, across the board denial."

Without the blessing of the board, the bistro has little hope of securing a license. 

"It’s case by case, but we certainly heavily weigh the views of the community board when somebody applies for a license," Crowley said. "If we do not hear from the community board or the community board approves the license, that license will be reviewed at the staff level. If the community board opposes the license, that license has to go to our three member full board."

But St. Clair said his restaurant and what's come in to replace it never got a fair shake from CB8.

"I didn’t go to the community board in Brooklyn because I didn’t want to taint Tim and Matilda’s chances," St. Clair said. "In Brooklyn, they just hate us."

Owners Tim Harris and Matilda Boland did not return calls for comment about their license, but the Hawker Bar team has begun circulating an online petition in support of the transfer

Until then, and despite the lack of a permit, the liquor flows. 

"It was a derelict building — we spent half a million dollars and turned it into this beautiful space," St. Clair said. "With no liquor license, that half a million dollars is up in smoke."