BAR PATRONS GO NUTS OVER PEANUT BAN

Bartender Gavino Siciliano sees the end of the roasted-peanut era at Barnacle Bill’s as a sign of an overly litigious culture. Below, a sampling of comments from the restaurant’s Facebook page. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

When tinkering with some traditions, it helps to have a thick hull, the owners of Barnacle Bill’s are learning this week.

The riverfront restaurant, a Rumson institution, opened for brunch Sunday having quietly ended its four-decade custom of giving out roasted peanuts, whose shattered shells would carpet the floor. Owner Todd Sherman said the change was made over concerns over peanut allergies and slip-and-fall claims.

Within 24 hours, however, the restaurant’s Facebook page was flooded with nearly 450 comments – many of them supportive, but most harshly critical.

“Me and my wife were just there last night, this is such bull$***,” wrote a Vinny DiCostanzi. “Having a beer and peanuts while we wait was a tradition.”

A Joseph Costanza wrote: “Thanks! the 1 thing that kept my kids occupied ,as we waiting for a table for an hour and a half, you have removed ,,,, good luck good bye”

Many of the restaurant’s patrons instinctively reached for a bowl of peanuts on arrival, and some would leave with their pockets bulging, employees said. (Click to enlarge)

Though Sherman, his wife, Patricia Quigley, had long resisted pulling the plug on the restaurant’s self-serve peanut roaster near the front door, they had not expected so one-sided a backlash, he told redbankgreen.

“But there are supporters out there,” he said. “If people don’t come back because of it, well, that just strikes me as shortsighted.” He said Barnacle’s is also well known for its burgers, Long Island iced teas, live music and sweeping view of the Navesink as it is for its roasted legumes.

Numerous patrons and would-be customers had told him over the years that they couldn’t eat and drink at Barnacles because of the prevalence of peanuts and peanut dust, Sherman said. He also said the bar has been sued a number of times in trip cases, and in every one, the plaintiff has cited the loose shells on the floor.

On Monday, restaurant customers could be spotted looking instinctively for the self-serve peanut roaster that stood near the front steps for decades. It’s been replaced by a couple of small tables, and on the bar and tables are now decanters of pretzel nuggets.

Among the supporters seated at the bar Monday evening was Alana Larsen, owner of Alana’s Salon in Fair Haven. She said the change meant that a friend who had avoided Barnacle’s because of the peanuts could now patronize the business. His aversion, though, wasn’t based on allergies, but on sanitation concerns, she said.

“It’s because of the shells on the floor,” she said. “He works in the restaurant business, and to him, it’s a cleanliness issue.”

Gavino Siciliano, who’s worked behind the bar for 15 years, said he lamented the end of the peanuts era as a caving to an overly litigious culture in which “everything is somebody else’s fault.” But Siciliano said also that too much was being made of the change.

“If not for Facebook and Twitter, this wouldn’t be half the storm it is,” said Siciliano. “If you’re angry over the peanuts, you’ve got bigger problems than Barnacle’s taking away the peanuts.”

“Face to face, the customers have been a bit more understanding,” said Sherman’s 22-year-year son, Sam, who helps manage the place.

But even longtime friends of the owners had their reservations. Toby Scott, Bruce Springsteen’s recording engineer, who’s known Sherman since he bought Barnacle’s in 1982, said the change was dictated by the needs of a tiny minority.

“Geting rid of the peanuts – I can’t see it,” he said after finishing off a burger. “If I was allergic to a dog, I wouldn’t have a dog, and if I was going to a friend’s house, I would say, ‘do you have a dog?’ And if they did, I wouldn’t go to their house. I wouldn’t make all my friends sell their dogs.”