April 14, 2013 By Bill Parry
Dozens of Long Island City restaurants are likely to introduce sidewalk seating next month—when the city changes the zoning code and approves their use. However, Alobar, the critically acclaimed eatery located at 46-42 Vernon Blvd, won’t be among them.
While the city will allow restaurants to place tables out front—the sidewalk must be at least 15 feet wide and meet several requirements.
“We don’t fit the criteria for café seating out front because of the size of the street,” said Jeff Blath, the owner of Alobar. He fears the zoning change will put him at a competitive disadvantage, since many diners may elect to go elsewhere for their outdoor experience.
The restaurant is therefore trying to get permission to use its outdoor seating area that is located in the back of the restaurant.
The restaurant has never used that outdoor space because of a deal it struck with Community Board 2 two years ago—when it opened– in order to get its liquor license. The Community Board was concerned about noise when the condition was imposed.
“When I first made my pitch in the fall of 2010, the Lounge 47 war was at its height,” Blath said, referring to the bar/restaurant that closed this winter after a long and bitter battle with its neighbors who complained about the noise levels coming from the bar’s backyard.
“I don’t think we got a fair shake at the time,” Blath said.
Blath didn’t think the comparisons between the two businesses were fair. “We’re a restaurant, not a bar and we’ve proven to the community that we’re neighborhood minded,” he said. Alobar’s 18-by-20 foot outdoor area also has 11-foot high walls and an awning.
On Thursday, Blath made his case with an online petition he started to get Community Board 2 to revisit Alobar’s case and allow the use of its backyard. The petition states: “Without it we will not be able to compete with so many other restaurants that already have outdoor seating.”
The online petition had generated over 250 signatures in just 48 hours. “The comments are awesome to read,” Blath said. “It’s great to know how we’re perceived by our neighbors.” He hopes that the comments and the stature of his restaurant can influence the community board.
“We are the highest rated Zagat restaurant in the area: our 26 rating is right up there with the top restaurants in Manhattan,” Blath said. “It’s good for Long Island City to have a thriving business that will draw more attention to the neighborhood.”
Blath is hoping to speak at the next CB2 meeting on May 2nd. If he’s forced to wait another month to make his case he thinks it might be too late.