If Sisyphus lived in Philadelphia, he wouldn’t be hauling a boulder up a mountain, he’d be trying to get permission for outdoor seating in Point Breeze.
Since last year, the American Sardine Bar’s owner, John Longacre, says he has been trying to secure a variance to bring five or six tables to a lot he owns adjacent to the restaurant, at 18th and Federal. As part of his design for the space, which he called “unrivaled in the city,” he envisions ringing a garden area with an ornate fence and paving the surface. But he has faced enough resistance to require him to appear before the Zoning Board of Adjustment for the second time on Feb. 27.
Back in November, South Philly H.O.M.E.S. voted in support of the project and Councilman Kenyatta Johnson’s office submitted a letter of non-opposition, the bureaucratic speak for “support.” When Longacre first appeared before the ZBA about two months ago, he presented his plans along with 200 signatures from neighbors.
At the hearing, a resident of the 1700 block of Federal who has been a fervent opponent on the bar in the past, vocalized concerns, saying that there hadn’t been enough community input, Longacre said. Rather than reach a decision, the zoning board requested that Longacre bring interior shots of the bar to a subsequent hearing. Longacre claimed that he wasn’t given a reason for needing to provide the photographs and is baffled by how the inside could have anything to do with seating outisde.
Longacre says the outdoor space will “distinguish the American Sardine Bar from every other bar in the city,” giving it both a competitive edge while attracting visitors to Point Breeze. When his business first moved in, the adjacent property was a garbage dump where he often found scattered cocaine bags and once, a dead pitbull wrapped in a trash bag, he said.
In the beginning, he spent about $400 per week to keep it clean of litter and also partnered with with Antoinette Johnson of the Point Breeze Pioneers to draw in community support. But now that the lot is tidy, he hopes to use it to enhance the bar as a whole.
Longacre will be bringing photographs of the interior to his ZBA hearing but he’s unsure if the decision will be made in his favor. He does know one thing: if the board does not grant the variance at this hearing, then the outdoor space will not be open for the summer.