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New York’s illogical liquor law puts businesses on the rocks

There’s a folder tucked away in the back of Amherst Pizza and Ale House that’s chock full of ideas.

The restaurant that brought you pizza fries has been cooking up some breakfast concepts. But don’t look for them on the menu. Not yet, anyway.

Those breakfast pizza recipes are on ice and likely to stay that way, at least until the state eases up on one of its absurd liquor laws – no alcoholic drinks in restaurants before noon on Sundays.

“We don’t open for brunch at all,” said owner John Bona III, “and the main reason for that is most people want to enjoy a mimosa or a bloody marywith their brunch. It would be a natural with our breakfast pizzas that we do not have on the menu right now.”

Bona could serve up his breakfast pizzas without alcoholic beverages on Sunday mornings. Or he could serve brunch with bloody marys on Saturday. Or any other day of the week, for that matter. But not Sundays, thanks to a post-Prohibition blue law that has failed to escape modern times.

Boozy Sunday brunches may sound trivial, but this is just another example of the absurd situations that develop when inertia allows outdated regulations to sit on the books. The state long ago did away with restrictions on opening shops on Sundays. Lawmakers a decade ago peeled back a rule against buying beer on Sunday mornings.

But ordering a mimosa in a restaurant on a Sunday morning? That’s still not on the menu.

It’s a small example of a bigger problem: The state’s liquor law has become a patchwork of rules and exemptions that confuse potential business owners. The law, which dates back to 1934, includes “licensing statutes that ramble on for pages and pages, making it difficult to find relevant information,” a state working group noted in a report this month. The panel recommended reorganizing the law in a “coherent manner.”

Assemblyman Sean Ryan, who has backed a bill to roll back the Sunday morning restrictions, sees the prohibition against serving alcoholic beverages in restaurants between 8 a.m. and noon on Sundays as one of the more absurd rules still on the books.

“There’s really no legitimate reason why a person can’t have a mimosa on a Sunday morning at brunch,” Ryan said. “We have this patchwork of rules that don’t make sense. So Saturday morning you can have a mimosa starting at 8 a.m., but you can’t on Sunday. But on Sunday, when we tell you you can’t have a mimosa, you can go to 7-Eleven and buy as much beer as you want.”

Mix that in your cup and drink it.

This just may be the year Sunday-morning brunch-goers – and the restaurants and bars trying to do business – get some relief. The Alcohol Beverage Control Working Group has recommended that the state allow restaurants and bars to serve drinks earlier on Sundays, giving more weight to legislative attempts to update the law.

That’s welcome news over at Mes Que, the Hertel Avenue bar and restaurant that draws die-hard soccer fans on weekend mornings to watch the English Premier League. There are fewer fans who make the trip on Sundays than Saturdays, said lead bartender Brett Krebuszewski.

“If they’re going to a bar,” Krebuszewski said, “they expect to be able to get a beer.”

Trivial? To some, maybe. But not to the employees over at Mes Que. And not to restaurant owners across the state.