Locals love Ditmas Park's unique bar and flower shop hybrid Sycamore not only because it's a great neighborhood haunt for sipping whiskey, but also because it offers a spot to grab an "I love you" (or "mea culpa") bouquet all in one spot. The Department of Health, however, does not believing in flora intermingling with more edible foodstuffs, and now the flower shop component is no more.
The troubles began on Monday, when DOH inspectors paid a visit to the bar and "found fruit flies at the establishment and food contaminated with fruit flies," a spokesperson for the DOH told Gothamist. Additionally, inspectors noted that a "'flower shop operation' was not observed" during a previous inspection of the bar in January of 2017. As first reported by BKLYNER, this confluence of factors led to a temporary shutter of the bar beginning at 5 p.m. on Monday evening.
In a post to Instagram, the bar outlined what it calls a "unique and disruptive situation" with the DOH. "The crux of the closure pertains to our dual business model," the post reads. "The coexistence of the flower shop and bar is suddenly a little too cozy in the eyes of the great city of New York."
We miss you and will see you soon! Stay tuned... Dear Neighbors, We are facing a unique and disruptive situation. The DOH has shut us down! They visited Sycamore Monday afternoon for an inspection and closed the doors at approximately 5pm. The crux of closure pertains to our dual business model. The coexistence of the flower shop and bar is suddenly a little too cozy in the eyes of the great city of New York. We have proudly served the Ditmas Park community beautiful flowers and cold beverages for over 8 years. We assure you that we are working feverishly to remedy the situation. Stay tuned on our SM feed. Sycamore
On Wednesday evening, Sycamore was permitted to reopen—sans lovely flowers.
"We were forced to close the flower shop component of the business," the bar said in an email statement to Gothamist. "We are working with our elected officials, Small Business Services, FDC, Community Board, and others in a concerted effort to reopen the flower shop. It's been part of our identity since we opened in 2008, and we'll exhaust every resource at our disposal in hopes of making us whole again."
Stems will continue to operate out of its studio on Cortelyou Road, with a forthcoming shop coming to Prospect Heights in August.
Jen Berkley, a pol running for City Council in Brooklyn's District 40, which includes Ditmas Park, took up a defense of the bar on Wednesday, calling on the city to take into consideration the specific needs of establishments before applying sweeping rules that could negatively impact business.
"I'm not saying an establishment that has legitimate health code violations shouldn't take care of those issues, but we need to review outdated regulations that force unique business models, like Sycamore, to fit a square peg into a round hole," said Berkley. "Our small local businesses have a hard enough time keeping their doors open in our neighborhoods, given rising commercial rents in the neighborhood, and the city needs to adopt regulations that allow our local businesses to make the most of their spaces so they can afford to continue to operate in our thriving commercial areas."
The backyard at Sycamore (Shana Jarrett)
The flower shop wasn't the only component of Sycamore's extensive programming and physical attributes the DOH took issue with. The agency pointed to an "illegal structure in the backyard" they say was being used for food service but had not been approved by the Department of Buildings.
"We have complied with DOH's demand to remove our garden area bar sink and tap system as to render the space for seating only," Sycamore continued in their statement. "Unfortunately, this will cause us to discontinue our beloved Flatbush Food Court until further notice."
Update: The DOH provided some additional clarification about the bar's two inspections, telling Gothamist Sycamore "used one fridge for both food and flowers, which means there is unnecessary access to food storage and food prep by non-restaurant employees, which is against the NYC Health Code," noting that beverages are considered food under the NYC Health Code. "We recommended that the florist get its own fridge, but we did not shut down the florist," they say.
When asked if shutting down the flower shop and backyard taps was conditional to Sycamore's reopening, a spokesperson for the bar replied "absolutely...we just complied to get the business opened." Sycamore says they they are looking to "get some information through our community board and council office to understand and to remedy the situation."