December 28, 2003, Sunday
LONG ISLAND WEEKLY DESK
Want Some Music With the Meal? Don't Eat in East Hampton.
By TOM CLAVIN (NYT) 1108 words
IN any restaurant in the Town of East Hampton, if you sit down and order a beverage or food and listen to a jazz trio performing in the corner, you may be witnessing a violation of local law.
This is because the town, in an effort to control noise in restaurants, bans most live entertainment in them. Under the town code, a restaurant may offer live music only if it comes from an unamplified piano or string instrument; playing horns, electric instruments or percussion, or singing with a microphone, is illegal.
The code permits live entertainment in nightclubs, like the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, for example, because such entertainment is their primary business. And anyone who travels across the border to the Town of Southampton can enjoy live entertainment in restaurants, because Southampton law does not forbid it.
The East Hampton ban is rarely enforced, and a quick scan of the nightlife listings in the weeklies proves that some restaurants ignore it. But even so, local musicians say it affects their ability to work in town because it discourages restaurants from hiring them. As a result, they are pushing to have the ban taken off the books. The town board, which consists of five members including the supervisor, has the power to revoke it.
In November, Alfredo Merat, a Sag Harbor guitarist who heads the band Europa, came to a board meeting and made a plea for the code to be changed.
''A lot of musicians here need the income from performing at restaurants, and it hurts that some restaurants in East Hampton won't hire us because they don't want to get fined,''
Mr. Merat said in a recent interview.
''But it's not just about money,'' he added. ''We are able to perform, work on our music and with other musicians, do what we love and have a good audience. Restaurants are critical to musicians.''
Jay Schneiderman, the town supervisor, and a music teacher and drummer who performed locally before his political career began in 1999, has asked town attorneys to draft legislation to change the code.
''I don't know that I have enough support on the town board to get it passed,'' Mr. Schneiderman said. ''At least I'd like to schedule a hearing so this issue gets aired out. I'm sure there are a lot of people who don't know that in a couple of ways performing live music is illegal in this town. The way the law is now, it's very archaic.''
''The law hasn't been enforced, and there are restaurants offering live entertainment,'' he continued. ''But for most musicians and I know for me as a musician, I don't want to do something illegal and risk the consequences. I know that musicians have turned down a lot of gigs that were perfectly harmless.''
On Jan. 1, Mr. Schneiderman will become county legislator, replacing George Guldi. But he hopes to introduce the new legislation and schedule a public hearing before then. He will be replaced by Bill McGintee, who said he had just begun considering the issue.
''I'm a big music fan myself, so this is certainly something worth looking into,'' Mr. McGintee said. ''We want to make sure we can strike a balance between noise concerns and what would work for local musicians, restaurants and patrons.''
Job Potter, a board member who is also a guitarist with Ghost, an East End band, said, ''I'm all for live music.'' But he added that if the ban was revoked, the town should retain some control over live entertainment.
''What appeals to me is to do it by a permit, so it's not a vested right that a restaurant has,'' Mr. Potter said. ''A restaurant owner can come in and apply to host music, say, from 7 to 11 o'clock, and a year-long permit is issued. During the year, if we get well-founded complaints because of noise or traffic, we revoke the permit.''
Pat Mansir, who will be the lone Republican on the board by next month, said she favored changing the law ''if people can't hear the sound from outside.''
But Marina Van, executive director of the East Hampton Chamber of Commerce and a former owner of Bobby Van's in Bridgehampton, said she was worried that an effort to change the law will resurrect a controversy from several years ago, when local business owners, including herself, fought the imposition of a curfew for restaurants and nightclubs.
''I'm concerned now that if music is allowed, it will come with a curfew, and I'd hate to see that battle be re-fought,'' Ms. Van said.
The ban frustrates performers like Stefanie Cardinali, a jazz singer who performs solo and with a trio. She and her trio appear Sunday afternoons at World Pie in Bridgehampton, roughly five miles from the East Hampton border. But Ms. Cardinali will not perform in an East Hampton restaurant.
''There are people who have known me for years and have seen me perform at World Pie and other venues, and they keep asking me, 'Why don't we see you performing in East Hampton?''' Ms. Cardinali said. ''They're so surprised when I tell them it's because that would be illegal.''
''What is especially strange about it is you have so many people from the city who are used to going out to dinner or stopping in someplace to have a glass of wine and watch someone or a group perform,'' she added. ''When they're out in East Hampton, that is not possible.''
Her performances at restaurants in Southampton are good for business, she said, because people who hear her play there, book her and the trio for private parties. But in addition, she said, ''Not even as a musician but as a person, I'd like to go listen to some good live music without going to bars where people are screaming.''
Mr. Schneiderman said that changing the code would be in keeping with East Hampton's character.
''East Hampton is known as an artistic community,'' he said. ''We've always prided ourselves on the arts. And this is a situation where the town code is anti-art.''
CAPTIONS: Photo: Stefanie Cardinali performing at World Pie on Main Street in Bridgehampton. She said she does not perform in East Hampton ''because that would be illegal.'' (Photo by Doug Kuntz for The New York Times)