In preparation for the weekend, The New York Times has dedicated a lot of words to New York City's so-called War on Brunch, a topic we discussed earlier this week. But literally: The issue, to recap, is over several restaurants at the Williamsburg/Greenpoint border that have been breaking the law by serving food outside on Sunday mornings. (Let's discuss again, figuratively if not literally: When does breakfast end and brunch begin?) Per the 30-year-old law, restaurants in New York City are not permitted to serve food and drink at sidewalk cafes before noon on Sunday. (In the rest of the state, it is allowable "as early as 8 a.m."). Restaurants have flouted this law for the obvious reasons: There are customers who want to sit outside, especially in the nice weather, and no one really complains, nor is there any real enforcement. But in Greenpoint, people are complaining, and restaurants have been issued summonses for violating the brunch law. City councilmen and even the Brooklyn borough president have gotten involved. All this over brunch!
Of course, this is not really a brunch issue, as much as it's fun to think about brunch wars and people pelting one another with hash browns and huevos rancheros flung from cannons. This is a gentrification issue, an age-old conflict in New York City and other urban habitats: The new clashing with the old, and neither wanting to bend. On one side, we have Polish immigrants who've long resided in Greenpoint and may not look terribly kindly upon all the new hipsters cluttering up the joint and blocking sidewalk traffic. This is brunch vs. church; activities you might say are oddly similar in some ways, rituals being what they are. Joseph Berger writes in The Times, "Brunch at an outdoor cafe during the warmer months has become as much a Sunday morning ritual in some of the trendier New York neighborhoods as going to church. But in one gentrifying neighborhood the two rituals are suddenly at loggerheads, pitting those dining alfresco on eggs Benedict and French toast against those strolling by to church in their Sunday best." He continues evocatively,
The site of the standoff is Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a bastion of immigrants from Poland that for the past decade has seen an influx of hipsters, young professionals and condo owners who have imported their flâneur lifestyles and more freewheeling religious outlooks to a historically blue-collar neighborhood of row houses, ethnic shops, small factories and old churches.
To put it bluntly, the "old-timers" are annoyed that outdoor morning brunchers are blocking their routes to and from those churches. Hence, a crackdown on restaurants violating the law requested by the local community board, and summons issued to two restaurants that sit across from one another: Lokal and Five Leaves, which could get fines of as much as $2,000 for the violation.
But at the heart of every war over space (a key theme, if there is one, in gentrification wars) is not brunch: It's the very basic city question of who owns the space—in this case, the sidewalk: Tom Burrows, chairman for Community Board 1's public safety committee, said that recently "several women complained that a churchgoer in a wheelchair could not get through the space outside Five Leaves." Meanwhile, the "new-timers" just want to eat brunch in peace in the out-of-doors ungodly early on Sunday morning. Or, as restaurant owners, to serve brunch outside whenever they please. Five Leaves' Jud Mongell told The Times "the brouhaha was an example of how one individual 'is able to flex his connections and enforce a law that no one agrees with.'"
Everyone has an opinion on brunch wars! But the most vocal seem to be pro-brunch: Some pastors have come out in support of brunch. Councilmen Stephen Levin and Chairman of the Council's Consumer Affairs Committee Daniel R. Gardonick are working on legislation to allow a.m. brunching outside. Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn borough president and pro-bloody-mary activist, has said he'd work for the law to be amended for early brunchers while also ensuring there would be enough sidewalk space for people walking around them: “As many lifestyles as there are in the universe, we have them in Brooklyn and then some,” Mr. Markowitz said, “and you have the right to go to church and the right to sit outside people-watching and have bloody marys.”
You have a right to church or a right to brunch, yes, and definitely a right to bloody marys. Still, you'd hope we could learn to get along and share our sidewalks and stop with these silly "wars." Isn't there enough hurt in the world? We recommend sleeping in until noon, then stumbling out of your apartments in sunglasses to eat eggs and drink some hair of the dog at your favorite sidewalk establishments. Anything else is considered gauche. Also: This weekend is supposed to be gorgeous. Get your brunching battle attire on!
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.