Community Board 1 ponders the unthinkable — a Williamsburg without new bars

Bar? None! Neighbors upset about Grand Street speakeasy
Photo by Tom Callan

Raise a glass to Williamsburg — it might be your last.

Community Board leaders l proposed a moratorium on all new liquor licenses on Tuesday night — curtailing the flow of new bars and restaurants into the booze-soaked partyland.

CB1 Chairman Chris Olechowski said the neighborhood has “reached its breaking point” and is “oversaturated” with new eating and drinking establishments that bring “illicit drug use, loud music and loitering in the street.”

“We’re not saying it’s going to be permanent, but we’re going to send a message,” said Olechowski. “This is a tremendous burden on this community. We have a responsibility to all members of the community, not just to those who want to come here and have a good time.”

Dozens of new bar owners attended the hearing to gripe that their livelihoods would be destroyed.

“I am concerned about [whether] there will be a risk to open a restaurant for those with a good track record,” said Kevin Patrick Linney, who hopes to open a bar on Kent Avenue near N. 11th Street.

And some residents, such as Daniel Susla, hoped that the board’s proposal wouldn’t neglect nuisance bars such as the one that keeps him awake until 4 am most nights.

Bartender Anna Carty pours a smooth artisan draft during opening night at Gypsy last year.
Community Newspaper Group / Andy Campbell

“We understand the hoopla here, but we’re more in favor of enforcement of bars that operate outside the law,” said Susla.

Olechoswki’s proposal is certainly not new — Community Board 2 briefly shot down a bunch of liquor license requests in 2009 until Borough President Markowitz intervened to keep neighborhood taps running — and complaints about bars are as common in Williamsburg as, well, bars.

Community board staffers say that they have received a rising number of complaints from residents about excessive noise and late-night revelry from many new bars.

And some residents have mounted aggressive campaigns to prevent the board from handing out liquor licenses like candy — a campaign that even ensnared a quiet wine bar on the corner of Metropolitan and Driggs Avenues and a bar in the middle of a residential stretch of Grand Street.

The proposal will be officially introduced at the board’s Public Safety Committee on May 5, but Olechowski’s call for a mini-Prohibition has already created a rift between drinkers and teetotlers.

“Wow, that’s so crazy! It’s Draconian,” said board member Ryan Kuonen. “I don’t like things that are so black and white.”

The board’s public safety committee chairman, Mieszko Kalita, compared a moratorium to “playing God” with the lives of entrepreneurs who want to open a restaurant.

Community Board 1 Public Safety Committee Chairman Mieszko Kalita opposes the liquor license moratorium. Here, Kalita poses with a beer.
Photo by Sara Brittany Somerset

“It will play a huge role in price of real estate,” said Kalita. “Whoever has a bar and is selling an existing license could become a millionaire overnight. We really have to think it over.”

But board member Will Florentino understands his neighbors’ frustrations with new drinking establishments.

“We do suffer an undue burden, and that does hamper the quality of life in the district,” said Florentino.

Board members in favor of the moratorium may think that their neighborhood is the booziest in New York, but it’s not even in the top 10.

A New York Post analysis of liquor licenses found that the East Village, followed by several other Manhattan neighborhoods, had the most concentrated number of bars in the city.

But Greenpoint had among the largest number of alcoholic anonymous groups — an indication the neighborhood’s residents are indeed suffering from the tidal wave of alcohol.

Community Board 1 Public Safety Committee will debate the proposal at its next meeting on May 5 at the board’s office [435 Graham Ave. at Frost Street in Williamsburg, (718) 389-0009]. The meeting begins at 6:30 pm.

And last year, members of the public rallied against Custom Wine Bar, which ended up getting its liquor license.
The Brooklyn Paper / Will Yakowicz