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CONN - Southporters fear biker bar at RR depot


Attorney James Walsh, far left, responds to questions from Spruce Street resident Stephen Stout about Cafe Society, a small 27-seat French restaurant proposed for the Southport train station. Photo: Genevieve Reilly / Fairfield Citizen

FAIRFIELD -- Could a 27-seat French bistro drop its accent and become a hangout for a motorcycle club?
That was a fear voiced at a Parking Authority meeting Wednesday night to discuss Cafe Society, the restaurant that local resident Josh Fried has been trying to open for the last year and a half in rental space at the rebuilt Southport Railroad Station.
It mattered not that the state Department of Transportation, which leases the station to the Parking Authority, wanted the panel to gather comments from "historic preservation stakeholders." The state spent about $2.6 million rebuilding the station to replicate the historic structure that burned down in 2008.
Fried wants to offer breakfast to commuters, and later serve lunch and dinner.
In deference to neighbors' concerns, the restaurant would have only a beer and wine permit, said Fried's lawyer, James Walsh.
Like the restaurant on the other side of the tracks at the Southport depot, Paci, the kitchen at Cafe Society would close at 10 p.m.
"What if it becomes a motorcycle hangout?" asked Spruce Street resident George Martin.
Martin said that he is a restaurant owner in New York, and "getting a foot in the door" is widely practiced by restaurateurs. So while it may be beer and wine now for Cafe Society, he said, it would likely lead to a full liquor permit later. "I've done it myself."
He continued that while beer and wine is popular with younger people, "it's the first step they take before the hard liquor, and then the marijuana."
Another Spruce Street resident, Stephen Stout, insisted that even though there would not be a full-service bar at Cafe Society, it would still function as a bar. "It's not a bar, but it sells alcohol. Don't tell me it's not a bar."
Other neighbors expressed concerns about traffic, parking, noise and the safety of residents, particularly children living on Spruce Street and single women living in the Southgate Condominiums.
"This is a very, very small space," Fried said, as he tried to assure neighbors his project would not result in a noisy bar. There would be no outdoor seating, no outdoor music and no live music indoors, he said.
"We're not asking him to close at 7 or 8 or 9," Stout said. "We're asking him to close his doors at 10 p.m."
Walsh said in previous meetings, neighbors suggested using Paci as a model, which he said Fried is doing. But he told Hearst Connecticut Media Group that unlike Paci, there will not be a separate bar area or full liquor permit.
Ultimately, it will be up to the state to decide if Cafe Society can open at the depot. It was pointed out that having an active tenant at the station could improve safety for commuters and neighbors, as well as help cut down on graffiti.
If Fried's application is turned down, Walsh said, the state could instead decide to lease to a 24-hour Dunkin' Donuts.
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