Peace meal? Councilman’s proposed law could end War On Brunch

War on brunch: W’burg group fights to stop Sunday morning sidewalk dining
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Councilman Steve Levin (D–Greenpoint) has drafted legislation that could end a 21-day conflict between the city and rebel restaurants — and save outdoor dining on Sunday mornings, The Brooklyn Paper has learned.

Levin’s bill, which he submitted to city council on Monday, would change a 30-year-old city law that prohibits cafes from serving customers food and drink on sidewalk cafes before noon on Sundays, aligning city code with state laws that permit brunching as early as 8 am.

“The legislation is in the very early stages,” said Levin. “I am still listening to all the stakeholders, including the brunching community, the religious community, and the religious brunching community.”

The bill could defuse a conflict that erupted last month when Community Board 1 leaders warned city officials that several Northside cafes were violating the seldom-enforced Sunday morning outdoor brunch ban.

On April 18, the Department of Consumer Affairs agreed to “follow-up accordingly” with restaurant inspections in North Brooklyn, agency community relations director Ricky Wong wrote in a dispatch to Community Board 1 that was obtained by The Brooklyn Paper.

Four days later, city inspectors raided the Mediterranean bistro Lokal and issued a summons for allegedly setting up tables outdoors at 9:35 am — making the Lorimer Street restaurant the first casualty in the War on Brunch.

Consumer Affairs inspectors struck again on May 5, citing Five Leaves and the Meatball Shop on Bedford Avenue for the same offense.

Lokal and Five Leaves vowed to fight the tickets in separate court appearances next month.

“We’ve been serving Sunday before noon for five years and we never received any complaints,” said Lokal co-owner Serkan Uzel. “We’re paying our taxes, we’re trying to be nice to our neighbors, and we try to avoid every complaint.”

This month, the war turned as cold as a smoked salmon platter when several cafes north of McCarren Park hauled in their outdoor tables in retreat. But even though it was quiet on the front line, the eateries were working behind the scenes to mobilize support from hundreds of diners — and power players including Levin and Borough President Markowitz.

Meanwhile, Community Board 1 leaders expanded their front, imploring members of other civic groups to adopt an if-you-see-brunching-say-something policy and call 311 with any reports of scofflaw eateries.

Rebel restaurateurs and their allies said the war must end at a Community Board 1 on Tuesday.

“We’re overwhelmed from what we say is a witch hunt in our neighborhood,” said Five Leaves co-owner Jud Mongell. “It seems weird to be the only two restaurants to be victimized by this.”

Kathy Meachem, another owner of the popular Aussie-influenced eatery, said rescinding the law would bring fairness to Sunday morning outdoor dining.

“Either it should be enforced everywhere or they should change the law,” she said.

Community Board 1 public safety chairman Tom Burrows, who lead the charge against rule-breaking eateries, declined to comment.

News of Levin’s brunch bill comes just four days before Mother’s Day — arguably the single most important brunching day of the year.