Tavern Operator Files Legal Challenge To Manhattan Liquor License Moratorium

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The New York Sun

A Manhattan bar owner is suing the State Liquor Authority over the moratorium it has imposed on new liquor licenses in the borough through the end of the year.

The operator of Barramundi, a neighborhood tavern on the Lower East Side, filed suit in state Supreme Court last week claiming that if the liquor authority refuses to approve his license, he will be unable to pay off a $4.15 million mortgage and “will lose everything,” according to court documents obtained by The New York Sun.

The lawsuit is the first legal challenge to the moratorium announced last month. The ban on new licenses drew praise from some lawmakers but angered many bar owners, who said it would catch innocent businesses in a wide net aimed at the industry’s few negligent operators.

The owner, Anthony Powe, has been running Barramundi under a temporary license since the spring, when the local community board signed off on his application to take over a bar that had operated in the neighborhood without incident for more than a decade.

Needing only the official approval for a permanent license, Mr. Powe in May closed on a $4.15 million mortgage for both the bar and the six-story building that houses it on Clinton Street. Nearly four months later, the liquor authority had still not acted on his application, despite assurances that he had nothing to worry about, Mr. Powe’s attorney, Martin Mehler, said.

Meanwhile, the liquor authority was facing heated criticism from local politicians for its response to the recent high-profile deaths of young women who had been out at clubs in New York. On September 6, the authority announced its moratorium, barring any new licenses for bars or clubs that operate within 500 feet of three or more other such establishments in Manhattan.

Mr. Mehler said state officials told him Barramundi fell within the moratorium and that no exceptions would be made. The last of the bar’s temporary licenses was due to expire at the end of September.

In an emergency filing last week asking a judge to keep the bar open, Mr. Mehler cast the situation as dire. “If the petitioner loses the ability to continue in business, all will be lost,” the filing stated. “This will cause the financial ruin to members of the petitioner, and they will lose their life savings.”

On Friday, Judge Emily Goodman approved Mr. Mehler’s petition, allowing Barramundi to stay open through the next court date, scheduled for October 19. Mr. Mehler said he would argue that the moratorium is illegal, since the authority is charged with issuing licenses on an individual basis. “You can’t, in one fell swoop, condemn everybody,” he said.

A spokesman for the liquor authority, William Crowley, confirmed that the state would contest the lawsuit, but he said he could not comment on pending litigation.

Mr. Powe also owns Jarnac, a popular French bistro on West 12th Street in the meatpacking district. Reached at Barramundi last night, he declined to discuss the case, as his application is still before the liquor authority.

The New York Sun

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