By Kathryn G. Menu
From open mic nights at Blue Sky with Jim Turner to Friday night jazz at Phao, Sag Harbor’s Main Street has been awash in live music and entertainment this winter, delighting patrons with soulful sounds, belly dancing and even drag queens.
And as of now, this is technically against the law.
Next month, the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees will present legislation that will legalize live music in restaurants and bars, although live entertainment like belly dancing and even disc jockeys appear to be off the table in the first draft.
On Tuesday, May 11 the village board will host a public hearing on a new law that would allow restaurants, bars and taverns the ability to host live music, with a village-issued permit.
“Clearly, in every restaurant and bar in town there is some kind of music being played and based on the current code it’s basically illegal,” said Sag Harbor Deputy Mayor Tiffany Scarlato, who wrote the draft code with trustee Robby Stein. “We wanted to support the business community and give people the opportunity to legalize what is happening and at the same time give the village control over the potential transformation of a restaurant into a nightclub.”
According to the draft law, a music permit would be free and establishments would need only to fill out an application with the village clerk to obtain one. As long as there are no problems in the next year, the permit will be automatically renewed.
The law allows music to be played in restaurants no later than one hour after dinner service, and no later than 1 a.m. Bars and taverns would be permitted to have live music no later than one hour before they close, and all establishments must adhere to the village’s noise ordinances. Cabarets, discos or nightclubs will not be granted a permit, nor would any restaurant or bar with characteristics of a cabaret, disco or nightclub.
The law was drafted similar to legislation enacted in East Hampton, which Scarlato penned herself.
“I think almost every municipality has the same type of definitions in their codes and they all restrict music in that they don’t want them to turn into nightclubs,” she said.
However, added Scarlato, the idea was conceived in an effort to ultimately help the business community by legalizing a practice that has been an economic draw for individual restaurants, and the village as a whole.
After first introducing the law, at a village budget meeting earlier this month, Scarlato noted it was purely a draft and “something to throw out there and get some feedback.”
“I think this is a great idea,” said Beppe Desiderio, co-owner of Blue Sky. “It is business driven, but more importantly, this supports the village and the people who work here by bringing people to Sag Harbor.”
Desiderio and his partner, Gerald Wawryk, both took issue with the notion that bars and taverns could host music later than restaurants, noting in Sag Harbor, technically the only legal bar is Murphs Backstreet Tavern on Division Street. All others are restaurants, and even the Cigar Bar is technically zoned for retail.
Wawryk added he would like to see the time increased to 2 a.m. for restaurants.
“We have to bring some of the nightlife back,” he said. “From a business point of view, if the mom and pops are going to survive, we have to give a little bit more. I am not saying we want rock and roll or techno – that’s not suited to Sag Harbor.”
Desiderio said music at Blue Sky has been crucial to the restaurant’s success, in particular the open mic sessions they began on Thursday evenings in the off-season with local musician Jim Turner.
“We had people who would otherwise have not come into the building come see us – we were able to bring them in,” said Desiderio. “They loved the music and they saw we were able to create a great environment here. I had mothers, high school kids that play in bands – everyone was here.”
While the open mic night will only be held every three weeks in season – the next show on May 20 – Desiderio said in the fall it will resume weekly, due to its popularity. Currently, Blue Sky has planned on hosting a disc jockey on Friday and Saturday nights, something Scarlato said was not allowed under the current draft law.
“I don’t understand that,” said Wawryk, noting his New York State Liquor Authority License allows him the use of a disc jockey on premises. He added a lot of charitable functions at Blue Sky have used a cover charge, also not allowed in the draft law, to raise funds.
Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano said this week he was reviewing the law, and meeting with building inspector and fire marshal Tim Platt to go over some ideas. While supportive of the measure, Chief Fabiano said his main concern was ensuring the law was crystal clear, easy to read, and specific about what will, and what will not, be allowed in Sag Harbor.
“Some laws that have been passed, or codes proposed, you need a lawyer to figure out what it means and it can be taken three different ways by three different people,” he said. “It’s a good idea – let’s just make it clear.”