Bottomless brunch doesn't exactly have a rosy reputation, but one New York City man has taken the war on brunch into his own hands. Last week, Robert Halpern, a lawyer and resident of Manhattan's East Village for over 30 years, filed a lawsuit against the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) in an attempt to end bottomless brunch in the neighborhood. In an email to Extra Crispy, Halpern explained, "I filed suit now because the [East Village] has become increasingly inhospitable in the past several years. We were never a quiet community, but we've become the wild west. Or the wild east of alcohol, noise, construction, destruction."
Part of the reason for this change for the worse, according to Halpern's suit, is the rate at which the SLA has been handing out liquor licenses to restaurants in the neighborhood. "According to Halpern's calculations, there are 679 active liquor licenses in the East Village alone," reports The Real Deal, which first broke this story. The number of licenses has been increasing every year. "There were 305 new liquor licenses approved in the area in 2016, and 243 in 2017."
Many of these restaurants are utilizing a legal loophole to serve bottomless brunches, during which customers pay a flat free to drink as much as they want (or can) in the span of a couple hours. According to a state regulation dating back to 1999, restaurants are only allowed to serve these types of all-you-can-drink deals as part of "weddings, banquets, or packages such as New Year's Eve packages costing more than $100."
According to Halpern's suit, “A weekly brunch special is not an ‘event or function’ in that it is not a special gathering or celebration. That the restaurant offers unlimited alcohol does not transform it into an event or function." And in Halpern's mind, it's a slippery slope. "Further, if a brunch is an event or function, then a lunch or dinner can also be considered an event or function at which a licensee can offer unlimited alcohol, and the exceptions will swallow the rule,” he writes in the complaint.
It's not that Halpern wants restaurants in the East Village to stop serving booze. "By the way, I am not opposed to alcohol consumption," he noted in his email to Extra Crispy, adding, "I am a wine lover." But Halpern does want to see an end to bottomless brunches in his neighborhood. "[T]he bottomless brunches are in my mind so clearly contrary to law that it seemed to me a good starting point for doing something about it," he wrote, adding, "They are not to the benefit of the community, and they are not to the benefit of the young adults who are encouraged to overindulge."
And it seems that, in general, other East Village residents are on his side. One anonymous commenter wrote on the local news blog EV Grieve, "Fuck yes. I want to help with this. Balance is key. People should still be able to have fun and live it up, but for some of us, we don't want to co-exist in this shit show, on a weekly basis." Another commenter noted, "I'm so tired of living in a booze-ghetto. It shouldn't be this way, and it didn't used to be this way. We had far less of an issue back when Bowery 'winos' were aplenty."
For what it's worth, restaurant servers aren't generally fans of bottomless brunches, either, so maybe it is finally time to put these boozy brunches to bed and leave the drinking for late night.