“Saga” coming to a close
STONYBROOK—After a 16-year odyssey involving half a dozen appearances before the city zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA), lawsuits and much political involvement, the Midway Café at 3496 Washington St. is finally approaching completion of its expansion.
David Balerna, owner of the Midway, told the Gazette in a phone interview that he’s hoping for a soft opening around Halloween.
“We may have to have a whole grand opening week—a year. Maybe a 16-year parade,” Balerna said. “We’re super-duper excited.”
Balerna is on the verge of completing a 220-square-foot expansion of the space that will increase the occupancy limit from 60 to 99 people. The fire and inspectional services departments have already signed off the project, he said, and all that’s left is updating the liquor and entertainment licenses to reflect the new occupancy.
“I hate to say it’s all a formality, but… the [construction] work is totally done and completed,” Balerna said.
The latest bump in the Midway’s long road happened after the ZBA finally approved its expansion plans in 2008, he said. Eddie Burke, then one of the owners of Doyle’s just down the street, sued the ZBA to block construction. The case spent a year in court before being decided in favor of The Midway, Balerna said .
“[Burke] was within his rights to contest that decision, but we wish he hadn’t,” Balerna said. Burke is no longer affiliated with Doyle’s.
“Two great guys run Doyle’s now,” Balerna said, of Gerry Burke, Jr. and his partner, Christopher Spellman. “The hatchet is buried.”
“Me and Gerry both approved” of the expansion, Spellman said. “We thought it’d be a win-win for all of us.”
Eddie Burke did not return the Gazette’s phone calls.
Since the lawsuit, Balerna spent some time securing financing for the $100,000 renovation that added a small room, expanded the bar and changed all the sightlines to the stage.
“The finish line is in sight. We’ll cross it on bloody knees and palms, but we’re going to make it,” Balerna said.
Balerna said he is especially grateful to the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association (SNA), calling them “integral” to the success of the project. “They played a great role,” he said.
SNA coordinator Maureen Monks previously told the Gazette that problems with the Midway were what originally inspired the formation of the SNA. But by 2005 she said, it had “done a 180-degree turnaround into being a good neighbor.”
Michael Monk, recently retired chair of the SNA, told the Gazette in a phone interview that Balerna and the SNA negotiated an agreement in 2008 delineating responsibilities and expectations between the Midway and the neighborhood that made all the difference.
“Back in those days [the ‘90s], he was a little wild and crazy,” Monk said of Balerna. “Today he is well-known and liked. I went from not liking him at all to being his friend.”
In the Midway’s previous appearance before the ZBA, in 2005, the only opposition to the plan came from the Mayor’s Office. Maura Hennigan, then an at-large City Councilor, described the board’s 2005 rejection as “blatantly political” at the time, but declined to elaborate on the point. As the Gazette previously reported, Balerna sued the city after that hearing.
“The process got hijacked in a few different places, but we were able to right the ship,” Balerna said.
The Balerna family owns the row of storefronts at 3492-3498 Washington St. and expanded into space previously occupied by McCormack and Scanlan Real Estate on the corner of Washington and Williams streets.
Only the internal footprint of the building changed due to construction, Balerna said.