TO LEGALIZE MORE MUSIC
by Joanne Pilgrim
"A lot of us out here are trying to make a living as musicians," Alfredo Merat, a guitar
player, told the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday. He came before the board to argue that
the town code, which prohibits live music at restaurants and bars, allowing it only at
nightclubs, makes that quest harder. But he didn't have to push very hard. Board members
seemed ready for a change in the rules.
Only two places in town, the Star Room in
Wainscott and Resort in East Hampton, meet the code's definition of a nightclub, where
"a substantial element of the ...business is providing live entertainment for its patrons
or music for patrons to dance to." Bars are only allowed to have live music provided by
un-amplified stringed instruments or piano.
More and more restaurants have added dinner-hour performers or late-night bands, though they are illegal, as are the ubiquitous
bar bands and karaoke nights.
Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman advocated for a change of the rules.
"There are musicians who don't want to break the law," he said. Mr. Schneiderman plays
drums and can often be found on a bandstand, as can Town Councilman Job Potter, a guitarist
with the band Ghost.
The supervisor suggested live music at bars and restaurants be allowed provided the
noise ordinance was enforced. Town Councilwomen at Mansir and Diana weir agreed.
"If nobody can hear it from outside the restaurant, it doesn't matter," Ms. Mansir said.
"You can't have a town where you can't do anything," Ms. Weir added.
Mr. Potter called for a cautious look at the implications of changing the code, however.
"Let's not go down the carnival road here," he said, referring to legislation sponsored
by Mr. Schneiderman that would have lifted the prohibition on mechanized rides. The
legislation was offered hurriedly to allow the Montauk Chamber of Commerce to have a
merry-go-round at its Fall festival, but was voted down. Mr. Potter's Democratic
counterpart, Councilman Pete Hammerle, said the issue had prompted a sound and nightclub
committee to be formed in the mid '90s, but nothing came of it. The town code places tighter
restrictions on nightclubs and bars that are closest residence than it does on restaurants.
"There's no problem with a restaurant having music, but the problems is when they stop
serving food and turn into a dance hall," Mr. Hammerle said.
Among the board members' suggestions for revising the law to allow live music were a
specification that live music at a restaurant remain ancillary to dining, a curfew for it,
and an annual permit, which could be revoked if there were problems.
"I'm just trying to take a code that's silly and make it make sense," Mr. Schneiderman said.
"Music is illegal, and merry-go-rounds are still illegal."