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Proposed Ban on Liquor Licenses Aimed at Noisy Clubs May Harm New York City Restaurants

By Kelly Snowden

Dining in New York’s historic Lower East Side has slowly morphed over the last decade from pushcarts and dives to posh eateries and wine bars. This boon has also brought bars and night clubs that have become a bane for area residents in the form of increased noise from taxis and rowdy revelers. This isn’t just confined to the Lower East Side but is present in neighborhoods all over the city. While the majority of the problem stems from late-night clubs, the state of New York doesn’t seem to distinguish between them and restaurant or bars when granting liquor licenses.

The restaurant European Union recently learned this the hard way, having been denied a liquor license by the State Liquor Authority even though it’s demonstrably a food-driven establishment. Under current New York law, any new establishment, be it bar, restaurant or club, is banned from obtaining a liquor license if its location is within 500 feet of three or more current license-holders. This ban hardly comes into play in most places around the state. But in the crowded city almost any new establishment has to go through a series of hearings to override the ban and get its license, something that used to be a relatively painless process. The State Liquor Authority almost always ruled in favor of new establishments in the past, stating that the jobs created made the exception “in the public interest.” Local residents and their community boards have had new success in pressuring the authority in recent months to reject more applications, though, and the European Union denial was likely a result of that.

Local residents are hoping to take the matter beyond the control of the liquor authority. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who represents the Lower East Side, recently introduced legislation into the state assembly that would ban any exceptions to the 500-feet rule. If passed, the bill would prohibit future clubs, along with restaurants, from obtaining liquor licenses under any circumstances if the rule applies. Local restaurateurs argue that exceptions should be made and that liquor licenses should be portioned out differently for clubs, bars, hotels and restaurants.

A hearing is being held to gather testimony from local residents on the proposed legislation and on alternative ways of solving the problem of noise for area residents. It will take place on May 5, 2006, at 10:30 a.m. The location is the Assembly Hearing Room, 250 Broadway, New York City. To learn more about the hearing and register to testify, go to the following link:

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