Milk Bar Plan to Open Cocktail Bar Hits Snag

Community Board 8 gives nod for beer and wine—but not full liquor license.

The owners of are planning to bring a cocktail bar and restaurant to Washington Avenue, but the plan hit a snag Thursday night when . 

Alexander Hall and Sabrina Godfrey, owners of the popular Vanderbilt Avenue cafe, are planning to open Sunshine Co. at 778 Washington Ave. at the corner of Sterling Place, across from . The pair also owns Bluebird Coffee Shop on the Lower East Side and they opened in Ditmas Park, but sold it a year later (read ).

The restaurant is named after the corner storefront's former tenant, a bodega called Sunshine Food Products, as well as the 1970s rock band "Sunshine Co." that has four men and one woman (Hall and Godfrey have three male partners in the venture).

The team hopes to offer "elevated American fare" and "a really well-cultivated cocktail menu," said Godfrey, adding that it will be "kind of like Milk Bar on steroids" or a "younger version of the Vanderbilt."

The drinks would be "what you would find in a very fancy cocktail bar, like  , but in a more casual, friendly, non-pretensious way," Godfrey said.

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The catch is that the location is across the street from a church, Mission for Today Fellowship Hall, and state regulations prohibit bars selling hard liquor from opening within 200 feet of a house of worship. (The bar also violates the "500 foot rule" that prohibits more than three bars from opening within 500 feet from each other.) 

Hall and Godfrey said that they have been living in the community for eight and 11 years respectively and are active in two merchants associations. They said they were told the church was a mixed use building and under the belief that the 200-foot rule didn't apply, they already signed a 15 year lease and made $500,000 worth of renovations.

But Mission for Today's pastor told CB8's economic development committee that the building is entirely used as a church save one apartment occupied by the bishop. 

Those for approval argued that the storefront has been vacant for four years and that Sunshine Co. would improve the strip. But those against it would be disrespectful to the community to allow a bar to open across the street from a church. 

In the end, CB8's full board took the economic development committee's reccomendation that they support a beer and wine license as a compromise.

But Hall said a beer and wine license wouldn't work with the restaurant's cocktail bar concept and that they need liquor's profit margin to make the large storefront's high rent.

Instead he plans to apply for the full liquor license without board support and make their case that 745 Washington is a mixed-use building.

There's a reasonable chance he'll get it; the State Liquor Authority often sides with businesses over community boards, said Sharon Davidson, director of the North Flatbush BID.

And if they do get the license, the pair said they think the neighborhood will find Sunshine Co. quieter than expected, with a clientelle primarily in their 30s and above, not a bunch of drunk 20-somethings.

"I think there’s a misconception in the neighborbood," said Godfrey. "It’s really the kind of place where people have one or two really well crafted cocktails."

KAI studio Event Space July 11, 2012 at 04:38 PM
I just read your story about Milk Bar pursuit for a full liquor license on Washington Ave... I don't like the 200ft rule. I think its just senseless. There's so many of these "inactive" church organizations that bring down the community with old run down facades. In which they refuse to make upgrades on because the church never has money for such capital improvements....why? because the church have not had service in how long or a fundrasier to raise funds to make such improvements! Sorry for venting out.... I have seen this happen to so many of my colleagues... Its just not fair to us business owners who's trying to make a difference in our communities on so many levels. smh!
ChrisMartin August 15, 2012 at 10:20 PM
I couldn't agree more - CB8 is full of people trying to protect their own self interests as opposed to the community's interest a whole. The bottom line is that change is forever inevitable in the 5 boroughs and we need more people on this board that have sympathy for the business owners that are coming into the neighborhood and investing all that they have into improving the area. Flower shops and book stores are great, but they can't sustain themselves unless there are first a handful of bars, restaurants, and coffee shops. A tiny fraction of 1% (.000001% to be more precise) of Americans opened their own businesses last year [July '12 Harvard Business Review] - this is shameful, we should be encouraging the growth of small businesses, not scrutinizing them for being close to a dumpy church. To add this not all "bars" are crazy coyote ugly institutions; if the community doesn't need them then won't they die off anyway?


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