Will Smokers Find Paradise
On Rooftops of New York?
When the city’s new smoking ban went into effect on March 30, it appeared so iron-clad that even the most resourceful restaurateur or bar owner would be hard put to find a loophole.
But some Greenwich Village residents believe a way has been found.
They fear that rooftop restaurants-the regulations for which are murky at best-may become the next trend in the Village, an area already packed with restaurants, cafés and bars.
The concern is that as restaurants and bars seek to hang onto their all-but-banished smoking clientele, they will expand to any space that allows them to capitalize on the 25 percent of outdoor seating space that’s reserved for smokers. This exemption to the otherwise all-encompassing smoking ban has thus far been primarily used for street-level outdoor cafés.
Residents say that the preponderance of brownstones and low-rise buildings in the neighborhood are likely to make the area a tempting location for this type of expansion.
“If you just walk down the streets of the Village, you’ll see how many low buildings we have,” said Marilyn Dorato, secretary of the Greenwich Village Block Associations, a coalition of more than 30 block associations, speaking to The Observer . “It’s going to completely blossom. The possibility is endless as to where this can lead as far as outdoor restaurants.”
Curiously, the source of much recent speculation stems not from a deluge of applications for rooftop restaurants, but from the Garage Café, a jazz-and-blues-themed restaurant at 99 Seventh Avenue South, between Grove and Barrow streets. The Garage has had an application on the agenda of the Board 2 business committee since February. Owner Robert Rinaolo, who is also the committee’s chair, is seeking to expand the Garage’s existing on-premise liquor license to the location’s rooftop. The matter was deferred in February and again in March by Mr. Rinaolo, who said his architects were not ready with the plan. In April, the 30 or so residents who had shown up to protest the plan for a third time grew irate when Mr. Rinaolo and his plans for the Garage again failed to materialize at the committee meeting. The committee nevertheless passed a resolution urging the State Liquor Authority not to review the application until the board has had an opportunity to see it.
Residents feel that Mr. Rinaolo is stalling, waiting for community opposition to die down, but stress that the greater issue is the precedent the expansion could set. The few rooftop restaurants in the Village have been a source of headaches to residents in recent years, and the neighborhood feels that the city’s tightened smoking restrictions will be a siren call to restaurateurs eager to build their clientele.
“There’s really no way you can run an outdoor space without some amount of noise,” said Ms. Dorato.
Whether the neighborhood has accurately forecast a coming trend has yet to be determined. But according to residents, history has taught them that it’s much easier to mount an effective opposition before approvals are granted and construction begins.
“It takes a long time to shut something down in the city,” board member Doris Diether told The Observer .
At the board’s April 23 public meeting, the full board upheld the business committee’s earlier resolution, urging the State Liquor Authority not to delay its review of Mr. Rinaolo’s plan. Mr. Rinaolo did not return calls from The Observer for comment.
Any rooftop restaurant or bar will ultimately require permission from the city’s Department of Buildings. According to department spokeswoman Ilyse Fink, such approval would be contingent on compliance with the city’s zoning, fire and construction regulations. If those conditions are met, however, there may not be much that neighbors can do. “If it’s a lawful use, it’s a lawful use,” Ms. Fink told The Observer .
May 7: Board 4, the Fulton Center, 119 Ninth Avenue, 6 p.m., 212-736-4536; Board 10, Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building, 163 West 125th Street, 6 p.m., 212-749-3105.
May 8: Board 5, International Toy Building, 1107 Broadway, sixth floor, 6 p.m., 212-465-0907.