It’s 12:20am on a Wednesday night in the backyard of Metropolitan, one of Williamsburg’s longest established gay bars. Four women—who’ve been coming to Metro, on average, for five years—are chatting on a bench that abuts a crosshatched wooden fence separating the lively outdoor bar scene from a private backyard. Peering over the white Christmas lights draped through the trees, one can just make out a row of residences, most with the upstairs lights shut off. The conversation on the bench is about the consequences of nights in spaces like these, specifically Community Board 1’s unanimous vote for the State Liquor Authority not to renew Metropolitan’s liquor license, mainly on the grounds of excessive, late-night noise.
“As much as it might suck for the patrons, if I lived above here, I’d be like, yeah, cut it down early.”
“It’s very understandable.”
“I think that’s crazy. I think that if you live in New York you have to accept that there is noise near you. If you don’t want to be near a noise, you don’t move there.”
“I mean this is New York, not Nebraska.”
“Oh my god.”
The conversation is interrupted by a flying object hurled over the fence. It fizzles at the foot of a man sitting at a table nearby. The group stands up and gathers around, examining. It’s a full plastic water bottle. A Pellegrino.
“Wait, did that come from an apartment?”
“Yeah it did. I saw the bushes shake.”
“And it’s a Pellegrino, can we note that?”
“They definitely have a Vespa.”
“And a French Bulldog.”
In January, when Metropolitan’s liquor license came up to the local Community Board for renewal, neighbors of the bar submitted complaints, saying that Metropolitan wasn’t following the state guidelines on closing outdoor spaces at the appropriate hour (11pm on weekdays and 1 am on weekends). The Brooklyn Paper reported that one Williamsburg resident came to the public safety committee, telling them he had to hose off the urine-soaked sidewalk in front of the bar to get rid of the smell. The patrons in the backyard aren’t saying these complaints are wrong (“I’ve definitely done that,” one man says, referring to the peeing on the sidewalk), but they’re also asking this: Who was there first, the bar or the neighbors?
“The population grew at a swifter rate in Williamsburg than in any other area in Brooklyn over the last decade, and this conflict has been a long time brewing,” Lincoln Restler, Democratic Leader for Assembly District 50, told The L over the phone. “We live in Brooklyn. Most neighborhood residents are similarly interested in having a good time and tolerant of reasonable city noise. But there are specific bars and restaurants and clubs that are particularly noisy and make life difficult for their residential neighbors.”
Back at the Metropolitan, one of the witnesses to the water bottle incident, Becky, is convinced this is a specific type of complainer. “Those aren’t some old-school New Yorkers bitching about shit,” she said. “These are, ‘We’re paying a lot of money to live here, and I have a hifalutin job at some corporate agency, and I need my rest, I need to get up at 6.’”
But whether it’s gentrifiers or lifers doing the complaining, it’s not just Metropolitan (or gay bars) the board is targeting. The board is setting new rules regarding Northside bars’ outdoor spaces in general. In December, CB1 decided that new bars with outdoor spaces applying for a liquor licence must provide a full menu and sit-down service. For existing bars looking to expand, the same rules apply.
“We’re trying to tame the Wild West of bars,” CB1’s public safety chairman on liquor licensing told Crain’s last month. “People keep coming to our meetings and raising hell about the bars.”
The bars themselves, however, seem to be looking at this increasingly tense situation as an opportunity. In September, Teddy’s Bar and Grill owner Felice Kirby began working with other Northside bars to form a trade group as the Brooklyn Allied Bars and Restaurants (BABAR!). The alliance, now 50-60 establishments strong, hasn’t developed an official reaction to the new rules, but Kirby and other bar owners are eager to work out their differences with the Community Board.
“I saw the vote/discussion of Metropolitan during the CB1 deliberations. Sure seemed like a lot of neighbors had gripes that sounded serious and awful,” Kirby told us over email. “We are not in favor of worsening the quality of life—we are about the opposite!” Dave Rosen, owner of The Woods and member of the Allied Bars, thinks the controversy will serve as a catalyst for better practices. “We’ll hopefully form a better channel of communication with the Community Board so we can understand their concerns and proactively address them. It’s an opportunity,” he said.
In the meantime, Metropolitan’s liquor license is resting on tenuously safe ground. The community board can only make recommendations to the State Liquor Authority—they don’t have the actual power to take away a bar’s booze. And, lucky for Metropolitan, the bar doesn’t have any prior violations or complaints on SLA’s files. But if anything, the community board’s decision does serve as a resounding wake-up call: If bar patrons don’t shut the hell up, neighbors are ready and willing to throw the book (among other things) at Northside nightlife.