Sag Harbor Cinema Seeks to Add Part-Time Bar to Space on Third Floor

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Gillian Gordon, executive director of the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center, presents plans for a bar on the third floor to the Planning Board on February 25. Peter Boody photo

With hopes for a “soft opening” as soon as March 29 and a grand opening perhaps in mid-April, the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center unveiled plans this week to add a new element to the array of features it will be offering in its new three-screen Main Street complex: a part-time bar and concession area in what Cinema attorney Christopher Kelley called a “flex space” on the third floor of the new structure.

In addition to the bar, which would operate when movies are being shown, the open space on the third floor also would be used for educational purposes and fundraising events, Mr. Kelley told the Sag Harbor Planning Board on Tuesday, February 26.

The Cinema, which will have a café but no alcohol service on the first floor, filed an application on Tuesday for new site plan approval covering the added use; and that evening, Mr. Kelley and Gillian Gordon, the Cinema’s executive director, informally presented the proposal to the Planning Board at its monthly work session.

Board chair Kay P. Lawson noted the bar is a permitted use under the zoning code and that the board can impose conditions limiting its hours of operation. Board members reacted cautiously, asking questions, for example, about the hours of operation and the need for a kitchen. None will be necessary because only sandwiches and prepared, “grab and go” items will be offered and hours of operation can be limited according to whatever conditions the board sets, Ms. Gordon said.

The application will be the subject of a public hearing before the board at its next meeting on Tuesday, March 24 at 5:30 p.m. Approval could follow that evening, which would allow the project to obtain the necessary certificate of occupancy (CO) from the Building Department in time for its opening. Getting the CO by April in order to open is “very important to us,” Mr. Kelley told the board.

In addition to setting the hearing date at a brief formal meeting convened immediately after its work session, the board also agreed on Tuesday to delete several requirements from the site-plan review process because they were satisfied when the board approved earlier site plans for the Cinema project in 2018 and early 2019. Most deleted items involve the exterior of the building, Village Attorney Denise Schoen said at the meeting.

Many cinemas have died in recent years because people are streaming films on TV instead of going out to the movies, Ms. Gordon told the planners. Successful independent and not-for-profit cinemas like the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center “have food and drink and that’s kind of what we’re thinking of,” she said.

She noted there also will be a “virtual reality” or VR room on the third floor, a workspace for events and classes, and access to outdoor terraces. “This could be a lounge and café in the daytime,” she said of the proposed bar. It would be open “about an hour before” showtimes so patrons “can have a sandwich and order a drink before going on to one of the three cinemas we have.”

She added “it’s not in our interest to have a bar” as a full-time business. “We’re not in the restaurant business” either, she said.

Commenting the following day on the new proposal, April Gornik, the chair of the Cinema’s board, explained how the idea for the bar had evolved during the planning and then the construction of the third-floor space, which was expanded over the original design and required a second site-plan review.

“Although the idea of a bar had come up of course much earlier, and especially after we realized we’d be stupid to not develop a third floor, we had to study the success of movie theaters all over the country but more locally ones like in Bedford and Huntington, and find out how much impact having a bar might have,” Ms. Gornik wrote in a reply to text messaged questions.

“Of course it turns out to be huge, and sustainability has got to be a priority for us. We had originally thought that we’d have office space up on the third floor, but when we got it framed up and saw the view and airiness, we realized that we had to make it open to the public,” she added.

“It was clear that as a space for gathering and celebrating it would be unparalleled, so we did a redesign, and that was in the summer, so yes we were late. We couldn’t apply for a liquor permit until the redesign was done, and until we had an understanding of what was permitted for the food units that would be needed. It’s a pretty complex thing to finalize. Until we get it [a liquor license], we’ll have to use special permits for any celebrating with liquor.”

Ms. Gornik said that the target of March 29 for a soft opening “was aspirational and everything depends on our C of O. I’m not sure how far along we will be before April 11,” she wrote. April 11 is the Saturday of Easter weekend and was announced as an “aspirational” date for the grand opening months ago.

“April 11 is still something we’re hoping for as a grand opening date, but again, we fervently hope that we’ll be able to obtain the C of O by then,” she wrote.

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