MANCHESTER — Sitting at the tiki bar behind KC's Rib Shack — with its grass hut gazebo, lush plants and colorful lights — one could imagine being on a tropical island, far away from its gritty West Side location.
At least this was the case until last week, when a team of city inspectors descended on the Second Avenue establishment. A couple days before the Fourth of July, ahead of what would normally be one of the restaurant's busiest weekends during its busiest month, owner Kevin Cornish was ordered to close the entire outdoor seating area. With 125 seats, the area contains nearly half the restaurant's seating capacity.
The gazebo and deck area was an "illegally expanded structure," according to a letter from city's Code Enforcement Division that listed 12 violations all together, including "improper use of electrical extension cords" and "lack of plumbing or sanitary facilities."
Cornish conceded he wasn't too rigorous in making sure the tiki bar was up to code, but he noted that he had three permits, valid through 2014, from the Manchester Fire Department, the state Liquor Commission, and the city's Business Licensing division, which applied to the entire restaurant including the "outside patio."
"I feel everything has been blown out of proportion," Cornish said. "I feel after 14 years of being in business with zero violations, to come in and not give me a day (to respond)... I definitely felt like it was a spanking of sorts."
He added, "It's not just me that makes money out there. There are a lot of girls sitting at home because they haven't been able to come to work."
Cornish has an ally in Alderman Phil Greazzo, the representative for Ward 10, where the restaurant is located.
"City staff need to find a way to be more helpful rather than adversarial," Greazzo said. "I would think trying to help the business community in the city would be their mission."
On Wednesday, Cornish and Greazzo sat down with close to a dozen officials at City Hall.
Some were "helpful," Greazzo said, but "there are some personalities who see the function of government differently."
The order to keep the outdoor section of the restaurant closed remains in force until Cornish satisfactorily addresses the violations.
The gazebo had been a part of the property since before KC's moved in. Cornish said he had long thought that it would make a great addition to the restaurant, and he acknowledged he made some alterations, including building out the deck area, without pulling a permit.
KC's Tiki Bar, as it's called, has since become an integral component of the restaurant, which also features a rustic restored barn and walls hung with vintage guitars and other pieces of Americana.
Reader polls in the Hippo weekly newspaper have named KC's "Best BBQ" in the state for several years running.
Cornish believes the attention may have drawn the notice of health inspectors.
In June, an inspector from the Health Department came in and told Cornish that in order to make cocktails at the tiki bar, it had to have a functioning hand sink. The bar has a small sink, but it drains into a bucket.
"They were preparing drinks out there," Public Health Director Tim Soucy said. "We gave them a couple different options. From our standpoint, they can still serve bottled beer."Soucy pointed to the outdoor bar at the Derryfield Country Club. "That's all plumbed on deck," he said.
Cornish admitted that he continued to serve mixed drinks after the June inspection, and he was caught. He attributes the increased scrutiny to a rival business owner down the street. That's when the whole team of inspectors arrived, including the one from the Planning Department's Code Enforcement Division who ordered the patio closed. The inspector concluded that "no approvals were applied for or issued for use of the patio area"; that a section of fence was improperly built, blocking egress; and that customers were allowed to park in an unauthorized lot.
"The wrath of the city came down on him," Greazzo said.
The building inspector was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.
Cornish says he's working to rectify the issues, but addressing them all could mean that the patio will remain closed through what would normally be the busiest weeks of the summer.
Greazzo said KC's is just the latest example of a business getting ensnared in City Hall red tape. "The city should be doing everything it can, it should be falling over itself, to help businesses operate in Manchester," he said.
Greazzo also lamented closure of the tiki bar on a personal level. He is a regular customer and has held campaign events there. "I should be drinking a 'Pain Killer' right now," Greazzo said during a recent visit to KC's Tiki Bar.
The empty bar was hung with quirky decorations, including a sign that says, "If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun."