The divisive issue of booze in Hoboken

City Council hosts discussion on the 500-foot bar rule

Some members of the Hoboken City Council want to repeal the city’s “500-foot rule” – a rule that stipulates that no liquor licensed establishment may open within 500 feet of another – but not everyone is on board.
Repealing the rule would make it easier for new restaurants, bars, and liquor stores to open next to those already operating. In Hoboken, 500 feet is approximately the length of one south-north block (such as a block of Washington Street) or two east-to-west blocks (such as numbered streets).
In a public meeting on Monday, Sept. 26, the council heard from over 30 residents and members of the business community on the proposal.
A change to the ordinance was introduced at a council meeting two weeks ago. The proposed amendment, sponsored by councilmen Michael Russo and James Doyle, states, “Changes in the business environment, and the growth and redevelopment of the city” are reasons to remove the rule, adding that the “city does not believe that it is in the best interest to continue this prohibition.”
Russo has said he would like restaurants and bars to open in his 3rd Ward (on the west side of town) and other wards lacking these businesses because he believes the town demographics have changed.
There may be existing businesses with liquor licenses in closer proximity to each other, but they were approved before the law was instituted.

Quality of life and safety concerns

The majority of public speakers said if the law were repealed, liquor-dispensing businesses would concentrate in already congested and dense areas.
Eugene Flinn, owner of Amanda’s, the Elysian Café, and Schnackenberg’s, believes that the rule would not necessarily establish more restaurants on the west side of town. He said restaurants would actually “flock” to areas that already have the most foot traffic, such as Washington Street and downtown. His three restaurants are on upper Washington Street.

“Good intentions now don’t always transition to good intentions later.” – Jinny Ko
Several residents feared for the city’s quality of life if the law were repealed.
Councilman Ravi Bhalla said that he chose to live uptown after graduating from law school because it was quiet and far away from the “crush of weekend riffraff by the PATH station.”
First Ward resident Jinny Ko referred to the influx of bar patrons who give Hoboken its “party” reputation.
“As many of you may know, Washington Street transforms after 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evening, and during those times it’s not really our town anymore,” she said. “It takes on a sinister sort of feel… when I am in town and walk home from Sixth Street at any time after 10:30 p.m. I find myself crushed by crowds of never ending people and have found on more than one occasion that I had to dash across the street to avoid the taunts of unruly drunks and more than a few altercations.”
Ko said that she prefers to spend her weekends in Manhattan rather than in Hoboken because of the situation.
Other members of the 1st Ward, located near the train terminal, brought up public urination, vomit in their vestibules, and fights on weekends.
One resident of 35 years who didn’t give a name offered to take the council members on a midnight walk around City Hall on lower Washington Street, and said he would have been surprised to hear if any of them other then 1st Ward Councilman Michael DeFusco had done so recently.
“It’s an absolute nightmare,” he said.
DeFusco said that he lives in the 1st Ward because of the restaurants and bars that he believes add vitality to the neighborhood. “Food culture is what’s going to continue to make our city vibrant and lively, and that’s what we need to be fighting for,” he said. He said repealing the 500-foot rule may not be as bad as its detractors think.
Chief of Police Ken Ferrante said in an interview that he has attended two meetings with council members to address possible safety concerns if the rule were repealed.
He said his first concern from a law enforcement standpoint will be the need for an increase of officers in the already bustling areas near the PATH train, Washington Street, and First Street. He believes that total abolition without restrictions will lead to “bar clusters” and add extra strain, especially during events like Leprecon, Santacon, and Halloween.
His second concern is if there are not further restrictions, there will be more large bars that will attract more people to town, making it harder on the midnight staff in other areas.
As a lifelong resident, he remembers long lines outside bars and bar fights during the 1990s. He said that those have greatly decreased, but he believes in the last four or five years there has been an attempt to attract young crowds again. He said he has received posters from bars advertising at college campuses such as Montclair State and William Paterson.
Ko also said that membership on the council, Zoning Board, and Planning Board will change, and that “good intentions now don’t always transition to good intentions later.”

‘Oppressive situation’

A few business owners with liquor licenses said the law should be repealed because their rent has increased and they feel trapped by the law, unable to diversify.
Mike Gallacci, owner of the Green Rock and Grand Vin, said the rule should be abolished because it keeps businesses stuck in one location.
“There is nowhere to go in the mile-square city,” he said. “If you stay where you are, the landlord gauges your rent, and then what happens is, you are trapped and the rent keeps going up. As business people, it’s an oppressive situation and we need somewhere we can go because we can’t negotiate with our landlords if there is nowhere to go.”
He said that he doesn’t believe the town will become filled with bars and clubs, but rather restaurants, because “twenty-somethings don’t live here en masse anymore because it’s too expensive.”
Gallacci said that as a resident he believes in competition as it “will make people try harder and do better, and as residents we deserve that.”


Rumors have swirled recently about various restaurant and property owners who may have nudged council members to make the change, but no one has been able to confirm for sure that it’s any one business. At the meeting, Flinn asked if council members had been approached by the new owners of the former Hudson Reporter building at 14th and Washington streets. The large former bank building, located on a prominent corner in the northern part of town, is located near several bar/restaurants. Thus, the new owners could not receive a liquor license under the present law, if they want to use the location for a restaurant.
Flinn said the company suggests on its website that the building can be used as a restaurant. In fact, while the company’s website does not specifically state such a use, and refers to it as a retail space, an image of the building shows how it would look with umbrellas on the rooftop. Right now, the rooftop is unused.
Flinn said it is odd that a company would spend “millions of dollars on a building and they don’t know if that restaurant is a permitted use because of the 500-foot rule.”
Flinn asked if the council was proposing the rule change on the company’s behalf. Council President Jennifer Giattino said that the council had not been asked to intercede on the company’s behalf.


Armando Luis, resident and owner of La Isla restaurant, which has two locations in town, disagreed with repeal and suggested the council create zones that would encourage the development of restaurants, not bars and clubs. He said they could limit the ratio of bar seats to dinner seating and the percentage of revenue that the establishment can earn from alcohol.
Flinn, while not against giving restaurateurs more flexibility to move, said he thinks there should be a process to find common ground that would help those with liquor licenses. He suggested a hardship variance from the rule, saying it would bring about economic development and more jobs for residents. But he said change must occur on a case-by-case basis.
Gary Holtzman, who serves on the planning board, suggested the council consider repealing the rule in redevelopment areas like Neuman Leather on Observer Highway and the western edge of town.
He said that in planning there is “a principle of three,” meaning when one type of business opens in an area it has a hard time succeeding, but if there are three it creates a destination where people are more likely to go.
Holtzman said that if the law is repealed in redevelopment zones and the rule of three is applied, it may energize these newer areas of town.
President of the Chamber of Commerce Richard Mackiewiez said that the chamber neither supports nor is against the decision because “it is something ill-defined.” He said he believes the council needs to define and understand its goal clearly and specifically so that they can design a specific regulation that will allow them to implement the goal and allow businesses to be certain before they decide to make changes or come to town.
Russo and Doyle spoke about additional protections implemented by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board but weren’t sure as to what those protection could be.
“What we would like to do is put more protections in place through the ABC board,” said Russo. “The council would discuss what those changes would be, what they would look like, and then dictate to the ABC board as to how they will implement those rule changes.” Russo added that those protections are not yet known and that the council will take into account the opinions of the public.
Councilman Peter Cunningham said that he would like continued discussion and perhaps to solicit expert opinions from professionals before the council made a decision.
Doyle said that there is no rush and that the council does not plan to vote on the law at the next council meeting on Oct 5.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at

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