Board 2 Reviews Vernon Blvd. Restaurant ‘Saturation’
Board 2 Reviews Vernon Blvd. Restaurant ‘Saturation’
By Thomas Cogan
“There’s a real concern about saturation here.”
That statement by Joseph Conley, chairman of Community Board 2, about the bar/restaurant scene on Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City, is familiar to anyone who has heard arguments about bar/restaurant saturation in Queens: in Astoria, along Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights and Corona, on Bell Boulevard in Bayside and in several other areas. Conley was speaking at a special mid-July meeting of the Community Board 2 city services committee, which recently addressed liquor license applications from three restaurants quite close to each other. There was also further commentary on a fourth, which has aroused protest recently. The meeting was held in the basement of St. Mary’s Church on Vernon Boulevard, within four blocks of all the establishments.
The first of the applicants had a prestigious name appended to it. Manducatis Rustica, 46-35 Vernon Blvd., is a restaurant opened by Gianna Cerbone. The Cerbone family runs Manducatis, which for more than 25 years has been a well-regarded restaurant at 13-27 Jackson Ave. The attorney for Manducatis Rustica described it as a “high-end restaurant with low-end prices” that needs a liquor license if it is to be profitable. It seats about 75 and is open every night but Monday, though never past 10 p.m., he said. The sidewalk café part of it is seasonal and is not open past 9 p.m. Summing up his case, he said, “I don’t believe this restaurant will create any problem.” Gianna Cerbone said she needs the liquor license, if only because of the desserts she makes. Until now, she has been making do with liqueurs and the like borrowed from the older Manducatis, but that is only makeshift. She declared that a liquor license is not a privilege but a responsibility and asserted her commitment to a 10 p.m. closing by saying that she too has a family at home.
Next in line was LIC Restaurant, currently a work site at 47-34 Vernon Blvd. The owner said his other restaurants have never been sources of trouble. This one has small capacity, being only 10 feet wide and 75 feet deep, with no back yard and no sidewalk seating. The work site for Testaccio, the third restaurant, is a few doors down, at 47-30 Vernon Blvd. The controversy here has to do with a roof deck. Recent complaints by local residents about nocturnal noise from other establishments on Vernon have prompted concern that another source of boisterous merrymaking might be under construction. Testaccio’s owner was there to face skeptical committee members. They understood the deck was for equipment storage and did not want it to be a dining area, suspecting that the owner had such a plan in mind. The owner admitted that a dining area was considered, though it might be operated only in very restricted hours. Conley told him if that’s the plan, “you’ve got a problem”. The owner said he would like to use the deck for dining but was flexible. Conley, making a reference to information that the owner might be negotiating with the Department of Buildings about the deck, became blunt. “I’ll tell you now, don’t do it,” he said. The owner, by now a model of willingness, surrendered his deck dream. He even murmured that though he’d like to stay open as late as 2 a.m., that, too, could go: he told Conley and City Services Committee Head Pat O’Brien that he’d close at midnight.
Conley said that the main issue was alcohol and application of Section 64 of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Law, better known as the 500-foot rule. The law limits the ability of the State Liquor Authority to issue on-premises retail licenses if there are three or more already licensed establishments within 500 feet of each applicant’s address. On Vernon Boulevard, that is certainly the case. It was the committee’s duty to vote yes or no on the applications by the three new restaurants and send its decision to the full community board, currently on summer break.
Having reached an understanding with each of the applicants concerning civil behavior, the committee voted approval of the liquor license applications by Manducatis Rustica, LIC Restaurant and Testaccio. Committee member Al Volpe did not approve, however, believing that the plenitude of restaurants on Vernon Boulevard has become an excess of them, leaving local residents in the thrall of a food-and-drink colony.
There was also the continuing matter of Lounge 47, a restaurant at 47-10 Vernon Blvd. At the Board 2 meeting in June, a long line of residents denounced the noise issuing nightly from the restaurant and its back yard area. It was known that the Lounge 47 liquor license was being transferred to new ownership and the committee hoped that the new people, who allegedly promised to be cooperative, would show up to explain why they had not maintained communications. The committee had learned, and Conley announced, that family matters prevented anyone from being there. However, a person in attendance who called himself a silent partner, professed ignorance of the whole controversy. Conley told him that Board 2 would be going back to the SLA to complain that thus far, everything was being conducted in an unsatisfactory manner.