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Billie’s 1890 Saloon

Billie Phillips, the original owner of Billie's 1890 Saloon, will retake control of the Port Jefferson property on Main Street. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Alex Petroski

A decades-old Port Jefferson institution that has remained closed since a June 2016 fire could be moving toward reopening, thanks in large part to an agreement between Port Jefferson Village and the building owner.

Billie’s 1890 Saloon had to close its Main Street doors June 27 last year after a fire in the kitchen caused severe damage, and exposed several building code violations that required remedy before the business could be reopened. During an Aug. 7 village board meeting, Mayor Margot Garant and the board of trustees approved a resolution that should expedite the process.

Among the code violations — of which there were about 20 — from the village’s building department was a requirement for the installation of a bathroom that meets requirements laid out by the Americans with Disabilities Act. An ADA compliant bathroom would not fit on the main level of the building, which houses the bar, according to Garant, so instead, the building owner planned to move the kitchen to the basement and turn the former kitchen on the main floor into the new restrooms.

Because of the change of use of the building, an aspect of the village code was triggered requiring additional parking spaces be added. Being that no space was available on the property for the additional parking, the building owner could instead submit a payment in lieu of parking to the village, which is allowed under the code.

Instead of squaring the requirement with actual dollars, the village and building owner Joey Zangrillo entered into an agreement for Zangrillo to deed over land in the rear of the property, which is currently used for parking, over to the village. As a result, Zangrillo will essentially own the property that houses the building, and the remainder of the parcel will be deeded to the village.

“In talking with parking committee and Larry [LaPointe, deputy mayor], we find the land to be extremely valuable,” Garant said during the meeting. “You can’t really put a price point or tag on the size of the lot.”

The deal would be subject to approval by Suffolk County prior to finalization to ensure moving the kitchen to the basement is adherent to county regulations. As a result of the deal, Billie Phillips — the original business owner for more than 35 years who was not at the helm at the time of the fire but has since entered a lease agreement with Zangrillo to reopen Billie’s 1890 Saloon — said he is hoping to be ready to reopen in early 2018.

“This is a more than fair bargain from the village’s point of view,” said LaPointe, who is also a trustee, during the meeting. According to Garant, the area being acquired by the village is used as an informal parking area, though it will now have actual spaces painted and associated with municipal meters.

Brian Egan, the village attorney, explained that the difference in owning municipal parking spaces and leasing them to property owners from the village’s perspective is that it prevents disputes, confusion and potential lawsuits when property changes hands.

“Unlike every other municipality you would assume owns the municipal parking fields, we are a patchwork in that back parking lot,” he said.

Zangrillo praised Garant and the village for their hard work in helping to facilitate the deal and get the establishment back on track for reopening.

“The village has been nothing but extremely helpful to me as a landlord,” he said in a phone interview. “I’m looking forward to many, many years of a great relationship with my tenant. I’m looking to get Billie’s up and running for my concerned friends and villagers who have been asking.”

Billie Phillips, the original owner of Billie's 1890 Saloon, will retake control of the Port Jefferson property on Main Street. File photo by Elana Glowatz
Billie Phillips, the original owner of Billie’s 1890 Saloon, will retake control of the Port Jefferson property on Main Street. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Billie Phillips

My name is Billie E. Phillips. Thirty-five years ago, my late first wife and I, borrowed every dollar we could and spent every dime we had to open up the Bar/Restaurant, Billie’s 1890 Saloon. Like every venture into the hospitality business, it was a gamble. We were very fortunate. Through the first years it became apparent that Billie’s was becoming a special place for the community, a place for stories to be told, laughs to be had, and new memories to be made.

Since then and after my sale of Billie’s it has maintained its standing as part of the fabric of the community. Unfortunately, as most of you know, Billie’s sustained a kitchen fire and has been closed since late June. Since then, the current tenant’s lease was cancelled for reasons many people have speculated about, but most people have no true knowledge of.

Rumors have spread to the point that petitions were started to save the building from being torn down. The building will not be torn down and the bar and restaurant you have grown to love will continue on in the tradition of Billie’s 1890 Saloon for as long as I have a say in the matter.

After a brief tour of the building by the landlord, I was asked if I would be interested in leasing the property, as a new lease would not be offered to individuals of the previous corporate tenant for reasons that were explained to me. After some contemplation, I felt the reasons were understandable.

At the end of the day, I could not stand by and watch Billie’s 1890 Saloon be taken over by anyone without ties to the Port Jefferson community. In a decision that was very difficult to me because of friendships I have with people connected to Billie’s, in many capacities, my family and I have assumed control of the space used by Billie’s 1890 Saloon. It is my hope people will begin to understand this could have been the end of Billie’s as they knew it, and to some it will probably still feel this way. However, to those that are skeptical, please know my family and I will endeavor always to maintain the intangibles that make Billie’s such a special place in the hearts of so many.

Billie Phillips is the original owner of Billie’s 1890 Saloon, located on Main Street in Port Jefferson.

 

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A fire in June at Billie’s 1890 Saloon in Port Jefferson caused minimal damage, but code violations keep it closed while ownership rebuilds. Photo by Alex Petroski

A fire in June at a Port Jefferson bar that has been on Main Street for decades forced the establishment to close temporarily, but about 20 village code violations will keep the doors closed longer than initially expected.

Billie’s 1890 Saloon, located on the western side of Main Street near the intersection of East Main Street about a quarter of a mile south of Port Jefferson Harbor, has been an institution in the village since the 1980s. A fire started near the rear of the building, where the kitchen is located, at around 4 p.m. on June 27.

On June 28, Port Jefferson Village officials from the building and planning department cited the watering hole with roughly 20 violations of the village code. The building, which has a bar on the first floor, and is owned by Joey Zangrillo, houses apartments on the second and third floors, and also has a basement that is not supposed to be used as residential space.

According to the department’s report, the litany of violations included, but was not limited to, use of the basement as a habitable space; issues with interior and exterior stairways and handrails; plumbing system hazards; and overcrowding in the apartments.

In addition, some of the rooms did not have smoke or carbon dioxide detectors, according to Tony Bertolotti, Port Jefferson Village senior building inspector. Bertolotti has worked in the village’s building department since 2001, and said when the property had been hit with violations in the past, ownership was cooperative and accommodating in rectifying them. That has also been the case this time around, Bertolotti said.

In November 2012, the building was cited for a violation to the fire suppression system, and in 1992 and 1993, the building was also in violation of maximum occupancy laws, according to village documents.

“We’ll have Billie’s back and running,” Zangrillo said in a phone interview in July. “The violations came as a shock — a total shock to me.”

Craig Clavin owns Billie’s 1890 Saloon, according to Zangrillo. He could not be reached for comment.

Zangrillo offered an explanation for how the building reached the state that has left it vulnerable to the citations.

“You don’t visit your tenants in apartments on a weekly or a monthly basis,” he said. “If everything is OK today, something might not look good tomorrow.”

Zangrillo said the plan is to get the building up to code and reopen as soon as possible, with rebuilding efforts already underway by architecture firm Enspire Design Group and Long Island Creative Contracting, though he called some of the violations “extremely subjective.”

The building’s owner described what it was like being informed of the fire.

“It broke my heart,” he said. “The most important thing and the thing that I thank God for is that no one got hurt. You can always rebuild, but you can’t replace lives. The rebuilding is fine, the loss of lives would have been tragic.”

Port Jefferson Fire Chief Charlie Russo said after the fire that one civilian was taken to John T. Mather Memorial Hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation, though he didn’t believe it was serious.

Two messages were posted on the saloon’s Facebook page on the night of the fire.

“We are temporarily closed for business,” the first message read.

The second message was posted about three hours later.

“If not for the [Port Jefferson Fire Department], Billie’s would have been no more. Thank you for the prompt response! We will be back soon. [We’ll keep you posted].”

Zangrillo echoed a similar sentiment.

“We’re bringing Billie’s back to Port Jefferson.”

PJFD responds to a fire at Billie's 1890 Saloon on Main Street. Photo by Alex Petroski
PJFD responds to a fire at Billie’s 1890 Saloon on Main Street. Photo by Alex Petroski

A well-known watering hole on Main Street in Port Jefferson is closing its doors — at least for a little while — after a fire shut it down late Monday afternoon.

Billie’s 1890 Saloon, located on the western side of Main Street near the intersection of East Main Street and about a quarter of a mile south of Port Jefferson Harbor, was ablaze after a fire started toward the rear of the building around 4 p.m. on Monday.

Port Jefferson Fire Chief Charlie Russo addressed the incident after the flames were extinguished.

“Right now it’s just a fire that started in the back area of the building— it’s under investigation so I can’t give you too much information, but again it started in the back of the building, not the street side of the building,” Russo said. The kitchen is located in the back of the building.

“It was extinguished fairly quickly and minimal damage was done,” Russo said.

Russo also said that one civilian was taken to John T. Mather Memorial Hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation after the blaze.

A spokesman for the business who was on site after the fire declined to comment Monday, but two messages were posted on the saloon’s Facebook page later that night.

“We are temporarily closed for business,” the first message read at about 5:20 p.m.

The second message was posted just before 8 p.m.

“If not for the [Port Jefferson Fire Department],” the message said. “Billie’s would have been no more. Thank you for the prompt response! We will be back soon. [We’ll] keep you posted.”

It is unclear how long Billie’s will remain closed.