February 10, By Christian Murray
A Vernon Blvd pizzeria is calling on the community board to allow it to serve alcohol to customers who use its backyard space.
L’inizio, an old-school pizzeria located at 47-23 Vernon Boulevard, went before Community Board 2’s City Services/Public Safety Committee in Long Island City Wednesday night seeking permission for its patrons to drink wine and beer in its rear yard.
Tom Blaze, the owner of the establishment, had sought such permission when he opened three years ago but was denied. Last year, he went before the board with 2,000 signatures and got nowhere. On Wednesday, he got the thumbs down yet again.
Currently, L’inizio is permitted to serve wine and beer but its customers are not allowed to consume it in the backyard.
The rear year is a 600 square foot space that has five tables and 22 seats. Much of the outdoor space is dedicated toward growing tomatoes, basil and peppers–ingredients used for the pizza.
Blaze’s application to allow his patrons to drink wine and beer in his backyard was a long shot since the concept of outdoor dining/drinking has been contentious issue on Vernon Blvd. for years. Many Vernon Blvd. bars/restaurants are located next to apartments, and long-time residents complain about noise.
When Blaze applied three years ago prior to his opening, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan stepped in issuing a letter in opposition to his application concerned about the precedent it might set.
Several bars/restaurants with backyards on Vernon Blvd have opted to keep them closed in order to avoid conflict with the community board.
Pat O’Brien, chairman of the City Services/Public Safety committee, locked horns with Blaze at the meeting Wednesday after they questioned each other’s honesty. It was the exact argument that the two men had at the committee meeting a year ago.
O’Brien claimed that L’inizio had already been allowing its customers to drink in the rear yard, in violation of its existing license. He said that he—and one other board member– had seen people consuming alcohol in the backyard and that he had received reports from neighbors claiming the same thing.
“A tenant in your building upstairs e-mailed the board and said it was a frequent occurrence,” O’Brien said.
Blaze refuted O’Brien’s claim and said categorically that it had never happened. He said that he is at the establishment most of the time and that it was an impossibility.
“Have you taken any photographs or anything like that?” Blaze asked O’Brien, adding that he wanted dates and times of occurrences so he could check with his cameras.
O’Brien said he didn’t appreciate the cross examination and that the board does not have an investigative unit. He said that it can’t be refuted since he had seen it happen with his own eyes and it is what people have reported to the board.
Blaze challenged O’Brien asking when and how he saw it. O’Brien said he saw it on his way to his meeting.
At that point Blaze pounced and said it was impossible to tell what people were drinking from the front of the establishment. A friend of Blaze’s chimed in and said: “How can you tell what’s at the bottom of someone’s cup from there.”
O’Brien said his eyesight is good despite wearing glasses.
“You say it has never happened. Yet we have witnessed it. This goes back to who is telling the truth and who is not telling the truth,” O’Brien said.
Blaze told the committee that his pizzeria had not received any complaints from the State Liquor Authority since it opened and that the neighborhood has embraced his establishment.
O’Brien acknowledged that L’inizio was a popular venue but questioned Blaze’s honesty.
“You understand to hold a license there is the requirement that you have the character and the fitness to hold it. I am struggling with this. I am not trying to hurt anyone here but you are telling me that I didn’t see what I saw,” O’Brien said.
When the committee voted on Blaze’s application there was no discussion as to the merits of the application. Instead its members were baffled by Blaze’s insistence that no alcohol had ever been consumed in the rear yard.
It was for this reason that the application was denied.