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New Hope zoning group blasts Bucks County Playhouse over proposed bar/restaurant

Bucks County Playhouse officials were lambasted by a Zoning Hearing Board displeased Thursday night with a proposed rear deck bar that seemed to have morphed into a restaurant/bar with live music.

Playhouse owner Kevin Daugherty had asserted for several months that a bar with cascading decks to be located behind the historic structure would help defray theater costs and was integral to his business model for saving and maintaining the building. But zoning officials appeared taken aback to learn that there were to be three bar areas — one near the lobby, another at the outdoor concession stand in the parking lot, and a third at the rear of the building.

And while the special “performance” liquor license being sought by theater officials allows for the serving of alcohol for up to an hour before an after a given performance, Playhouse officials intend to keep the rear bar adjacent to the Delaware River open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. Adding fuel to the zoning board’s building ire was the argument by Tanya Cooper, president of Daugherty’s Bridge Street Foundation, that having an acoustic musician performing at most times would satisfy the “hour before and after performance” license requirement. Playhouse officials appeared to further irritate the Zoning Hearing Board by explaining that electronic amplification might be required at times, apparently unaware that zoning officials abhor amplified music on the banks of the Delaware River, where sound can reverberate great distances.

And then there was the restaurant. Playhouse officials said it was no secret that they intended to serve food at the proposed rear deck bar, and that a small protected food preparation area and additional bathrooms were previously green-lighted by the Borough Zoning Officer.

Normally reticent Zoning Hearing Board Chairperson Sandy Santello said she felt “blindsided” by the restaurant aspect of the proposal, and board lawyer William Bolla also expressed dismay that a restaurant was being proposed because it would require extra borough and county approvals along with payments for additional parking requirements, and had not been fully reflected in previous submissions.

Said one attendee who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the proposal, “It felt like they were trying to slip one by.”

One retail store owner who requested anonymity said, “I normally support the Playhouse in whatever they do because it’s good for business. But before they were talking about saving the Playhouse, and now it sounds like a big business.”

Zoning Hearing Board members traditionally do not comment on matters before them, and recent requests for this article were no exception.

The Playhouse’s Cooper said in a statement:

“We have always been clear and transparent about our plans for the restoration of the Playhouse. Officials were made well aware of our intentions to include a grand deck and bar on the back of the establishment. Servicing the great community of New Hope is our primary goal. We are confident that with the continued phenomenal support of the citizens of New Hope, we can work together to complete our vision for the restoration of this beloved Playhouse.”

Discussion of the matter will continue at a Zoning Hearing Board meeting scheduled for Nov. 1.

(Story updated 5:30 p.m.)

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Charlie Sahner


  • The bar and restaurant will be wonderful in that location and will be nothing short of an asset to the community. Music on the Delaware would be great! Why would anyone object to this? It is hard to understand why anyone would not fully support this.

  • I couldn’t agree with Patti more! The town needs a major overhaul! As a resident I am embarrassed at the number of trashy businesses in town which is why so many of us locals don’t shop or dine there frequently. I believe the Playhouse’s master plan would be a great benefit to the community. I would love to sit out on the deck and enjoy some acoustic music while having something to eat or drink pre or post theater. It’s a wonderful idea!

  • The hypocrisy of the zoning board is simply astounding. I find the statement “zoning officials abhor amplified music on the banks of the Delaware River, where sound can reverberate great distances.” laughable. Perhaps the amplified music will drown out the unnecessary loudness of the hundreds of motorcycles that I suppose DO NOT reverberate on the banks of the Delaware? As for the local shopkeeper who was surprised that the Playhouse was looking like a big business, when one puts millions of dollars at risk it IS big business. The theater is the anchor business from which all small shop owners will benefit. Working with the Playhouse owners is paramount. In case the zoning board hadn’t notice, New Hope is no longer a sleepy little river town. Face facts and resolve this or you will find yourselves with an empty theater and the failure of other businesses in the village.

    • I say allow them to build the bar…New Hope needs the revenue, the business, etc…too many shops going out of business and it’s starting to look dumpy…Such a historic place to visit when I was 17…Many stores, lots of great things to do and a tremendous amount of enjoyment…Look at it now…What’s to do there when every other shop is out of business…They cry “save the playhouse” but in all reality they don’t want to save anything at all…Good luck…My vote is a YES…Build!!

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