Manhattan Liquor License Crackdown on Sidewalk Cafes

In an effort to curb the reportedly raucous, boozing crowd, Manhattan, Community Board 6 is instituting a liquor license crackdown by requesting restaurants forbid customers from drinking alcohol outdoors unless they also order food.

The sidewalk cafe portion of these restaurants already must abide by special rules. This measure would impose even stricter standards for restaurant owners already squeezed from all sides.

Our Manhattan restaurant lawyers know as it stands, there is nothing in the current ordinance that requires such action. However, restaurants that don’t self-police and comply could find their liquor license in jeopardy.

The board’s business affairs committee spokeswoman was recently quoted as saying the intention is to deter larger crowds of people drinking on the street, where it may negatively impact the larger community.

This particular committee of the board is responsible for reviewing and approving liquor license applications. The committee just recently began requesting that any business applying for a liquor license sign a community board stipulation indicating they would cooperate with the new guideline.

Board members say they want restaurants in Murray Hill to thrive, but they don’t want that to happen at the expense of “an extra 20 people on the sidewalk.”

Unsurprisingly, this new rule has been met with an intense level of resistance from owners of area bars and restaurants. In one case, the owner of the Pig ‘N’ Whistle bar on Third Avenue refused to sign the agreement as part of his liquor license application. He insisted that those who gathered at his establishment weren’t “rowdy,” and it was unfair of the board to characterize them as so and to further require him to take action to address something he said isn’t a problem.

After an extensive amount of back-and-forth, the committee did ultimately grant the owner a liquor license even absent his agreement to sign off on the new rule. However, it was not without concession. He had to agree to slash the number of available outdoor seats from a dozen to 10.

Board members say the restaurants in the area aren’t poorly managed. However, the addition of sidewalk cafes to these establishments, they say, extends the bar practically out onto the street – which creates a disturbance to the surrounding neighborhood.

Business owners need to be aware of their rights. Although the community board can request certain concessions (such as reduced seating, reduced hours, etc.), the final say-so for a liquor license application rests with the Department of Consumer Affairs.

When pressed by reporters about this new rule, the department referred all inquiries to the state liquor authority. A representative for that agency underscored the fact that there is no law that requires licensed sidewalk cafes to serve food with beverages.

The greatest concern by business owners is that the traffic flow into their establishments will slow significantly if the rule is enforced, particularly when it’s warmer outside. Many people stop by to simply enjoy a refreshing brew or cool Pinot Grigio outdoors. Requiring that people spend more money on heavier fare is likely to cause more than a few to take a pass.

Owners of sidewalk cafes do need to be aware that the state liquor authority requires that all sidewalk cafe operations must have a current liquor license if they serve beer, wine or liquor on site. Also, a sidewalk cafe may need an additional approval from the authority, separate from the establishment’s liquor license.

Restaurant and bar owners who have legal questions should contact The Wright Law Firm  in Midtown Manhattan. Call (212) 619-1500 for a confidential consultation.

Additional Resources:

Murray Hill Community Board Cracking Down on Sidewalk Cafes Serving Booze, Jan. 10, 2014, By Heather Holland,