Bench warfare: Pies ‘n’ Thighs battles community group over seating

Bench warfare: Pies ‘n’ Thighs battles community group over seating
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

It’s a real-life game of chicken.

A Williamsburg civic group wants the gourmet fried chicken shack Pies ’n’ Thighs to remove two outdoor benches from the sidewalk in infront of the Southside eatery, but the Southern comfort food stalwart is refusing to surrender.

Community Board 1 members stalled the S. Fourth Street restaurant’s liquor license renewal last month, arguing that the wooden benches are law-breaking public safety hazards that draw crowds of noisy late-night customers.

“They’re doing so well they have to come up with a better way to handle the clientele, and having illegal benches in front of Pies ’n’ Thighs is not a solution,” said CB1 member Rob Solano. “The sidewalk is not an extension of the restaurant and everyone should play by the same rules.”

The State Liquor Authority approved Pies ’n’ Thighs’s license on its two-year anniversary, but with its feathers ruffled, CB1’s public safety committee laid out a new ultimatum — take down those benches or risk the city’s heavy fines.

Pies ’n’ Thighs co-owner Sarah Sanneh said the benches give her customers a place to sit while they wait for a table. She would consider asking diners to wait at a nearby bar and call them when a table is ready, but has been researching her options to retain the wooden seats.

“We love them, we’re trying to find out a way to keep them,” said Sanneh. “If there’s a way to keep the status quo, that’s our first choice. We’re the most above-board restaurant in the world. We’ll always try to do it the right way.”

CB1 liquor committee chairman Mieszko Kalita said that Sanneh should apply for a sidewalk cafe license, which would allow outdoor seating, but clear away the benches in the meantime.

“I absolutely understand they don’t mean any harm, they just want a sitting place for any customers — but clearly it’s against the law,” he said.

But North Brooklyn restaurant and bar owners are standing up for their flock, calling the board’s prohibitions on outdoor furniture peculiar and arbitrary.

“If you’re a popular business and that’s the only kind business that will generate jobs in this neighborhood, then what are you supposed to do?” said Felice Kirby, owner of Teddy’s Bar and the organizer of a new group of Williamsburg food and nightlife proprietors. “String customers up on a tree? Let them sit on people’s stoops? Jam them inside and get a fire summons? There shouldn’t be loud disturbances, but that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with chairs and benches.”

Pies ’n’ Thighs first opened in 2006 under the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge, but the buzzed-about barbecue and fried chicken joint closed in 2008 because city inspectors objected to its ventilation.

Two years later, Pies ’n’ Thighs reopened in a former bodega on the corner of S. Fourth Street and Driggs Avenue, installed its benches, and began serving its famed deep-fried chicken, pulled pork, fried catfish, and an array of pies and tarts.

The restaurant, which serves food from 9 am to midnight, hasn’t received any visits from the police, violations from the State Liquor Authority, or tickets from the Department of Transportation, which monitors illegal sidewalk activity, since it opened.

The bird shack is only the latest Williamsburg eating and drinking destination that CB1 has put in its crosshairs for outdoor noise.

The group has vowed to scrutinize liquor license applicants with outdoor spaces by requiring table service to reduce backyard crowds.

Reach reporter Aaron Short at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2547.