Volume 76, Number 7 | July 5 - 11, 2006

‘Survivor’ tiki torches are removed at Epstein’s Bar

By Janet Kwon

It was a quiet night at Epstein’s Bar on the corner of Allen and Stanton Sts. last Saturday. A midsized crowd dotted the bar’s sidewalk cafe area, and the conversation hovered at murmur level past midnight. An Elvis song played in the dark, cozy establishment but could hardly be heard by patrons sitting on the small picnic table-like seats outside. The décor was sparse with a simple maroon color scheme and a few ceiling fans, but the popular Lower East Side watering hole was missing something more than just the holiday weekend crowd that night; several tiki-like torches that used to light the sidewalk dining area were nowhere to be seen.

As reported in The Villager, Rebecca Moore of the Ludlow-Orchard Community Organization was gravely concerned about the potential danger posed by the torches and reported them to 311, brought it to Community Board 3’s attention and also filed a complaint with the Fire Department. The Villager published the Fire Department dispatcher’s phone number, which a department spokesperson said concerned neighbors should call if the torches were being used.

“For me…the torches were just unsafe and stupid,” Moore said in an e-mail. She added that “rimming a sidewalk cafe with open flames that is packed with drunk people several nights a week” is just one of many reasons why the torches were a safety hazard.

In response to Moore’s complaint as well as other calls from concerned community members, several fire trucks rushed to the bar last Thursday evening.

“They probably thought they had to go on the roof or something…they had to get all their gear on,” said Brendan Lawler, one of the managers of Epstein’s, which takes its name from the character Juan Epstein, the Puerto Rican-Jewish “sweat hog” on “Welcome Back Kotter.”
Lawler said that three or four fire trucks responded and that the firefighters “blew the torches out, and they were laughing the whole time.”

Both Lawler and Moore expressed that it was a waste of resources to bring so much attention to the torches.

“Much as I am relieved to get a response on this, I am really saddened that it took the Fire Department coming out in full gear to get this dealt with…firefighters are there to save lives…do they really need to come out to put out tiki torches?” Moore said. She wished the situation would have been taken care of more swiftly and by less drastic means.

“[The torches] were probably a bad idea,” admitted Lawler, shrugging his shoulders. “We’re not going to put them back up,” he assured. “They were just part of the décor, to make the place look nicer.”

The torches may be gone, and small twiggy shrubs are taking their places, but Lawler remains optimistic — saying that he is currently brainstorming to think of something to replace them with.

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