We were pleased that Community Board 1 rejected the complaints of a misguided minority of Williamsburg residents on Wednesday night and recommended a liquor license for a new wine bar on Driggs Avenue.
And it’s not only because we love wine.
Indeed, the larger issue behind this latest confrontation between residents and would-be bar owners is that, all too often, some community members want to halt any changes to their areas on the grounds that newcomers such as bars, restaurants and other businesses are “outsiders” who will destroy the neighborhood.
But who are the outsiders? And what is a neighborhood anyway?
In the case of Custom American Wine Bar, one of the co-owners actually lives a few blocks away. Worse, the opponents abandoned any attempt at objectivity, remaining oddly silent when 19 other bars in the party-hardy neighborhood were approved for liquor licenses at the same meeting of Community Board 1’s public safety committee last week.
Custom American would replace a vacant storefront, so residents’ complaints are misguided for two reasons: lifeless neighborhoods are breeding grounds for crime, and, more important, the site in question is zoned for such establishments, meaning that the teetotalers didn’t do their due diligence before they moved into the neighborhood themselves.
It would be one thing if the owners of Custom American needed a zoning change to operate, but it’s not up to the community board or the State Liquor Authority to stand in the way when long-vacant storefronts, or once-bustling neighborhoods slowly spring back to life in defiance of those who moved there during a down cycle.
We’ve seen this all before, of course. Last year, a similar fight broke out in Carroll Gardens after the owner of the well-liked Black Mountain Wine Bar on the quiet corner of Union and Hoyt streets announced that he wanted to open an oyster bar around the corner on even-quieter Hoyt Street.
Just as in the current wine bar case, neighbors claimed that the new oyster bar would be a menace to the community. But what “community”? Black Mountain Wine Bar, with its cozy fireplace, good food and tidy, farmhouse exterior, is a welcome neighborhood destination and part of the very community that blocked its owner’s equally neighborhood-friendly expansion plan.
More and more, Brooklyn neighborhoods are establishing their own nightlife scenes so that residents no longer have to rely on Manhattan for their entertainment. This revitalizes dormant commercial spaces, provides jobs in Brooklyn, and gives people a chance to hang out with their neighbors without leaving the neighborhood.
We think this is a good thing.