Living in Manhattan means coveting certain luxuries that people in other parts of the country take for granted: a yard, a garage, natural light, closets. And, like most New York transplants, I came to accept the fact that grilling would be a faraway fantasy as long as I wanted to live in the West Village on the kind of budget that can afford a one-bedroom walk-up. Or so I thought, until I hit the StreetEasy jackpot a few months ago and signed a lease for a downtown place with a patio.
I grew up in a house where, as a family-bonding project, we built our own pizza oven on the porch. Summer nights were spent in the backyard, feasting on ribs while the Grateful Dead played on the speakers. So even though I could get grilled food at plenty of places — St. Anselm, Reynard, Uncle Boons, the yards of friends who lived in ground-floor brownstone apartments in Brooklyn — I couldn't really re-create the experience of grilling. Every time I walked by Mas (La Grillade), the smoke smell taunted me, a reminder of what I was missing.
So when my lease ran out a few months ago and it was time to find a new Manhattan apartment, and I came across the charming little place with its own private patio, my first order of business was to make that patio mine. After that, naturally, I had to get a grill.
"Is that even legal?" a friend asked. "Um," I replied, "I think so?" But maybe I couldn't use propane? Or maybe grills are only legal if they're in a yard?
So, because I didn't want to be thrown in women's prison and/or burn down my building, I started researching. The 311 operator I talked to had no idea what the rules were. Google led me to this Fire Code, buried deep inside the fire department's website, which is basically impossible to decipher. Eventually, I found this document, which isn't dated, but does contain this passage: "Cooking with a charcoal barbecue is legal on a terrace or in a backyard," which was just what I needed to see.
There is some regulation about needing 10 feet of clearance between the grill and any combustible surfaces, and my patio is, eh, close enough. But just to be sure, I dutifully called the police department and asked what might, theoretically, happen if a person's grill was only, like, eight feet away from the building. Is there a fine? Or do you get thrown in jail? (Binge-watching Orange Is the New Black in one weekend has really made me paranoid.) Nobody had a clear answer, but obviously officers aren't storming too many apartments to measure grill distances, and the main takeaway was that nobody will hassle you if you don't set something on fire.
So I walked over to the nearest hardware store and picked out a Weber Kettle before it dawned on me: How am I going to get this thing home? (A time when another suburban staple — an SUV — would have come in handy.) Eventually the store let me borrow a wheelbarrow, and rolling my new baby back to my apartment was the best ten-block walk I've ever taken. After a quick trip to Faicco's Pork Store and about half an hour assembling the thing, I lit the coals and invited some friends to come over. It was perfect — at least until it started to downpour and we had to finish cooking in the kitchen. That's fine, though. There will be other nights when it's not raining, and when that happens, I'll be ready.