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.”