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War on brunch: W’burg group fights to stop Sunday morning sidewalk dining

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A Williamsburg neighborhood group is waging a war on brunch — pressuring restaurants in one of the city’s mimosa-strongholds to open later, hush their patrons, and keep their diners inside.

Community Board 1 members want the city to enforce a little-known rule prohibiting restaurants from serving diners at outdoor sidewalk cafes on Sunday mornings.

“This would keep the sidewalks open for Sunday morning walks to church,” said Community Board 1 public safety chairman Tom Burrows. “Lokal, Enid’s, and Five Leaves consistently open their sidewalk cafe hours before noon on Sundays.”

But cafe owners say they will continue to defy a regulation barring them from serving poached eggs with duck hash to hungry outdoor diners before noon rather than risk losses to their bottom line.

“This is bulls---, it’s not good,” said Lokal owner Gino Kutluca, who starts serving sidewalk patrons at 10 am. “We get 60 percent of our business on Saturday and Sundays.”

The front lines of the bloody mary battlefield is a three block area near the northern tip of McCarren Park where several restaurants operate sidewalk cafes.

The community board has already fired its first shots at Greenpoint brunch mainstay Five Leaves, which preemptively removed two sets of unsanctioned outdoor benches last weekend after a warning from the neighborhood group.

The eatery’s owners hauled away the wooden planks from their 20-seat sidewalk cafe to avoid heavy penalties after residents complained the benches draw a cacophonous crowd that lingers while waiting to order ricotta pancakes, egg sandwiches, truffle fries, and brussels sprouts beginning at 8 am.

“Do they need a threat to be good neighbors?” said Burrows, who has adopted the rule of General Patton in the board’s war on brunch. “Take reservations so there aren’t hordes standing around not moving out of the way!”

And last month, the board targeted Southside Williamsburg’s upscale fried chicken shack and brunch stalwart Pies ‘N’ Thighs over two wooden benches.

Pies ‘N’ Thighs owner Sarah Sanneh said she would comply with city regulations but wanted to consider her options — which include adding an outdoor cafe. The benches remained in front of the eatery this week.

The city began issuing permits for sidewalk cafes in 1934, and has limited outdoor dining on Sunday mornings since at least 1971 in an attempt to keep restaurants quiet on a traditional day of rest.

The Department of Consumer Affairs, which enforces the rules, also requires eateries with outdoor space to keep all furniture at least eight feet from the curb. The Department of Transportation also fines businesses that obstruct sidewalks.

This year, the Department of Consumer Affairs received 12 complaints about sidewalk cafes in CB1, conducted 69 inspections, and issued 18 violations — none for operating before noon on Sundays.

But the board’s aggressive front worries other restaurant owners who hope to open sidewalk cafes in time for summer.

“There are so many bigger public safety issues to deal with,” said Criterion Guebie-Thornton, the manager of Bellwether. “Plus most of our early bird diners are ones with families or a little older.”

North Brooklyn’s brunch lovers — the foot soldiers in the conflict — vowed to continue dining in the face of a law they consider unjust.

“It doesn’t seem very relevant for city life,” said Williamsburg resident and brunch fan Jay Tate. “People in New York work a lot and if they want to be able to enjoy brunch on a Sunday, they should.”

Reach reporter Aaron Short at ashort@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2547.

Updated 9:12 pm, January 22, 2014: Updated to include historic context on sidewalk cafes permits.
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Reader Feedback

Alvin from Williamsburg says:
Yes, people should not have a say about the community they live in, only businesses from people who don't live in the community and customers who also dont live in the community should have a say about the neighborhood. Please note, that was sarcams for all the non-new yorkers who moved here,.

As for Sally, the reason you have "drunks fighting, urinating, throwing up all over the parks our kids play in" is because the community caters to the businesses and not the people who live there.
May 2, 2012, 2:57 pm
Diet100 from Williamsburg says:
How do we get rid of the Community Board grannies?

I have a job so can't spend all day arguing with Tom Burrows and these other ancient idiots, but there have to be some people under the age of 90 who have time to stand up to these NIMBY fools.
May 3, 2012, 1:32 pm
mateus from LIC says:
“This would keep the sidewalks open for Sunday morning walks to church,”

this is funny. one cant go to one's church because of a couple sitting on a sidewalk table sipping mimosas at 11am.

a serious issue indeed.
May 21, 2012, 11:45 am

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