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

The Brooklyn Paper
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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 or by calling (718) 260-2547.
Updated 5:31 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Mike from Williamsburg says:
Boy am I sick of Community Board 1. I'm glad bar and restaurant owners are starting to organize themselves.
March 14, 2012, 6:53 am
D from Crown Heights says:
Plan B: Buy the cheapest flatbed truck you can find on eBay, park it in front of the store, and put some benches on top of it.
March 14, 2012, 8:45 am
Garbie from Brooklyn says:
Oh no! Benches!!!!! Run from your lives from this public safety hazard!!!!!! It's the end of the world!!!!!
March 14, 2012, 8:56 am
just a girl from Greenpoint says:
Its all cool!!! Until its in front of your home.. Have some respect for the people who live here and work!!8-)
March 14, 2012, 9:51 am
Juan from Gowanus says:
What mike said. CB1 should be abolished.
March 14, 2012, 10:33 am
Juan from Gowanus says:
What Mike said. CB1 should be abolished.
March 14, 2012, 10:33 am
Billy from B-burg says: can't abolish Community Board 1, it's legally the voice of the Community according to the City Charter. They're all unpaid volunteers. Yes, Board Members are appointed by elected officials, but anyone can volunteer for committee work, and everyone can show up at the meetings.)

Y'know, Juan, you could always volunteer for the Community Board and change things from the inside. Until people start doing that you can expect more of the same. Step up or shut up is the name of the game.
March 14, 2012, 11:21 am
Gemma from Wburg says:
What Mike said x3. They are benching for waiting, not seating outside. Totally different! Most restaurants have benches so their customers can sit and wait for a table.
March 14, 2012, 11:30 am
Matt from NYC says:
Maybe those customers can sit in their cars, idling the engine, until seats open up?
March 14, 2012, 11:42 am
BunnynSunny from The Hill says:
Remove the benches = helps decrease the number of hipsters

If you ask me, this is a good thing the neighborhood.
March 14, 2012, 2:12 pm
BENCH HATER from Wburg says:
GarrgaghaghghhhhhhHH!!!!! Benches make Hulk mad!!! GAAARRRGAAAAGHHHH!!!!!!
March 16, 2012, 2:22 pm
BENCH HATER from Wburg says:
GarrgaghaghghhhhhhHH!!!!! Benches make Hulk mad!!! GarrgaghaghghhhhhhHH!!!!!
March 16, 2012, 2:22 pm
BENCH HATER from Wburg says:
GarrgaghaghghhhhhhHH!!!!! Benches make Hulk mad!!! GarrgaghaghghhhhhhHH!!!!!
March 16, 2012, 2:22 pm
oldtime brooklyn from slope says:
Let's be fair - homeless 24/7 - let us see how artsy fartsy and cute in a few weeks
March 17, 2012, 11:50 pm

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