It’s the separation of church — and real estate!
The restaurateur behind a sleek new Prospect Heights eatery says he is exempt from a law banning the sale of hard liquor less than 200 feet from a church because the house of worship across the street is also a pet store.
Alexander Hall says his cocktail-centric eatery Sunshine Co. can escape byzantine blue laws thanks to a loophole in the State Liquor Authority’s code that bars bars near a “building occupied exclusively as a school, church, synagogue or other place of worship.”
The key word, for Hall, is “exclusively.”
“We are not saying that church is not a church,” said Hall, who also owns Milk Bar on Vanderbilt Avenue. “We’re just saying that as per SLA’s rules, we’re entitled to get a liquor license because it’s not solely and wholly a place of worship.”
But for the folks at the Tabernacle Free Church, the operative term is “building.”
The church owns a corner property at Washington Avenue and Sterling Place, welcoming parishioners at 745 Washington Ave., and leasing a small contiguous storefront at 470 Sterling Pl. to Fanci Pooches and Purrs Spa Boutique Concierge Service.
Both addresses are a part of the same parcel according to the Department of Buildings, and both are classified and taxed as religious establishments, according to the city’s Department of Finance — but the church says the pet shop is an entirely different edifice.
“That’s a separate building,” said associate pastor German Cayetano, who acknowledges the matter will be decided by a power second only to god: the State Liquor Authority.
“We abide by the rules and regulations of the state — the only time we wouldn’t is whenever what the state requires is in contradiction to what god instructs,” he said.
The state will rule on the liquor license bid on Feb. 27.
The hearing comes after months of uncertainty for Hall, who opened with lunch-service in December in anticipation of his liquor license, and claims he barely managed to stay in business until Feb. 2, when the state granted him permission to serve beer and wine.
The restaurant now serves beer, wine, and cocktails made with low-proof spirits like sherry, framboise, and Cocchi Americano — but could really thrive, according to Hall, with the addition of hard liquor.
“The place is designed as a cocktail restaurant, so it’s a bit like having a coffee shop with no coffee,” said Hall, who believes opponents were so fixed on his bar program that they forgot he was primarily a restaurant.
“We almost feel like we’re trying to do something bad, but we’re just trying to open a business!” he said.
Community Board 8 did not support the restaurant’s request for a liquor license over the summer, but has said it will support the restaurant if the state determines the church’s real estate holdings do not disqualify it from selling booze.
It’s certainly not the first time that a restaurant has found trouble near a place of worship, though some booze pedlars went to great lengths to get around the 200-foot rule by moving their front doors further away.Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg