Mixing Legal and Liquor

Location: Certain neighborhood factions have been clamoring for a New York City representative on the State Liquor Authority for years. What impact does your residency have on your job?

Healey: What you get with me is, I know the lay of the land down here. I’ve worked all over—Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau. I’ve worked in the courts, the D.A.’s office [in Brooklyn, Queens and Nassau County]. I’ve lived here a long time. So I have firsthand knowledge of the neighborhoods.

Do you have any firsthand knowledge of the alcohol industry? Say, maybe in your 20’s, you worked as a waitress or bartender?

I worked at parties. My friend had a catering business, and sometimes I would do that. And I frequented bars.

Any particular bars where you like to hang out?

Now? No.

Given your prosecutorial background, you’ve probably been exposed to some of the industry’s seedier elements—criminal activities, negligence suits, that sort of thing.

I do remember one appellate brief out of Queens. Something must’ve happened inside the bar, and then there was a shooting later on, around 4 or 5, when it was closed.

Did that experience in any way shape your outlook on the industry?

No. Definitely not.

What is your overall view of the industry?

I think that the vast majority of licensees are good, hard-working people who run legitimate businesses. Sometimes people make mistakes; they violate the A.B.C. law and they pay a penalty. But within all the licensees, there is a group of people—like with reporters and all other businesses—where there are bad apples. Those are the ones you hear about in the papers.

After a few high-profile crimes, nightlife security is now a hot topic. Legislators have made lots of proposals: new bouncer regulations, mandating security cameras in clubs, requiring high-tech ID scanners. From a regulatory standpoint, what’s actually feasible, and what’s too much to expect from operators?

I don’t wanna offer my personal opinion on that. Whatever the Legislature enacts, we’ll enforce.

Shortly after your appointment last summer, the S.L.A. announced a temporary moratorium blocking new liquor licenses in Manhattan. During that time, you were tapped to spearhead a task force to re-examine alcohol regulation statewide. What were the results of that review period?

What we wanted to do was take a step back and look at our licensing policies and procedure and the application, to see if there was a way we could improve it from our end. So we got all the stakeholders together—nightlife people, tavern and restaurant people, community-board people, the Mayor’s office, upstate police chiefs, politicians—and we had heated discussion and debate on things.

What were the fruits of all this heated talk?

The main thing would be to change the licensing application. Questions that were pertinent 10 years ago on the application are not pertinent today. Or, some questions, we need more information.

Like what?

The method of operation: What kind of restaurant are you gonna run? What kind of bar and what kind of food? The community boards had concerns, on the general application, that people came in and painted a picture of a white-tablecloth fancy restaurant, and, in the end, that’s not what they got in their neighborhood.

Also, we thought we should have different licenses for clubs and bars and restaurants. We’re working now on changing the licenses, so that when it’s hanging up in a bar or a restaurant, the community knows the method of operation that it should be—that it’s not a club, that it has to serve food. Color-coding, we’re thinking, so people can know right away a blue application is a restaurant, and so forth.

What about proliferation? Some neighborhood groups, particularly in southern Manhattan, say there are just too many noisy, rowdy bars. What do you think?

I once went with the community board, driving around the Lower East Side for, like, four hours, from 11:30 till 3 in the morning, to see firsthand what it was like.

Can you describe what you saw?

I did see people urinating in the street and, you know, crowds congregating, smoking outside. I also went to the clubs, too, one night.

The clubs in West Chelsea? What was that like?

Well, everybody was probably half my age. You know, it was exciting for them. It was crowded. I went into several places—probably six. I wanted to see it, so I would know, so I would understand. It took me three days to recover after staying out until 4 in the morning, but ….

If you and I were to head out now for a drink, what would you order?

Um, what time is it? I don’t usually drink during the day. I like for the sun to go down. At 8 o’clock? I’d either have a beer or a glass of wine. I think I’d have an Amstel Light.

Mixing Legal and Liquor