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Location, Location, Location: Sushi Hana’s Predicament

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Any restaurant owner will tell you location is everything. In the case of Sushi Hana, which opened this week on Rivington Street, a great location is both a blessing and a curse. Right next to the Hotel on Rivington, poised to benefit from heavy foot traffic, the restaurant would appear to be sitting pretty. There is, however, a problem. When we stopped by yesterday afternoon, an appealing sake and wine menu was placed on our table. But when we tried to order a drink, the host informed us their alcohol license hadn’t come through just yet.

Restaurants in New York are accustomed to waiting many months for the State Liquor Authority (SLA) to approve their licenses to sell alcohol (a story for another day). In Sushi Hana’s case, there’s an additional complication. Earlier this month, Community Board 3 voted not to support Sushi Hana’s application before the SLA on the grounds that it’s in a “resolution area.”

In 2004, CB3 passed a resolution declaring that no new liquor licenses would be approved in certain areas that have become overwhelmed with restaurants, bars and clubs. These guidelines were layered on top of a state law known as “the 500 foot rule,” which restricts the SLA’s power to approve a new license if there are already three liquor licenses within 500 feet. On the LES, these areas include:

  • Ludlow Street between Houston Street and Delancey Street
  • Clinton Street between Houston Street and Rivington Street
  • Rivington Street between Norfolk Street and
    Orchard Street
  • Orchard Street between Houston Street and Rivington Street

The resolution states, “Community Board 3 will approve applications within (the specified)
areas only where the applicant can demonstrate public benefit or substantial
support from the surrounding community.”  While the guidelines may have helped CB3 hold the line against bars and clubs that showed no regard for community concerns, five years after they were enacted, some board members have begun to question whether it’s time to rethink the issue.

They argue the resolution unfairly hurts businesses like Sushi Hana, that focus on serving food, but feel they have little chance of survival if customers know they can’t have wine or beer with dinner. As SLA committee member Dave McWater (a bar owner himself) put it, “sushi and a soft drink just doesn’t sound as appealing as sushi and sake.”  There’s also great disagreement on the committee about what constitutes “public benefit.” Committee Chair Alexandra Militano has criticized members who make exceptions for restaurants like Sushi Hana. She has made the case that a “zero tolerance policy” given the scope of the problem, is appropriate. Another member, Meghan Joye, has lamented the fact that the committee does not set aside time to discuss the policy. But given their lengthy agenda bursting with dozens of applications and meetings that last 5-7 hours, it’s difficult to see when “policy” could be debated.

Meanwhile, Sushi Hana waits for its application to be considered by the SLA. The state is not required to follow the community board’s recommendations. As we left, a very accommodating host urged us to come back and expressed hope that sake and wine would be accompanying the tuna rolls and sashimi in “a couple of months.”

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