Home WORLD NEWS Cuomo Cracks Down on Outdoor Drinking at New York Bars

Cuomo Cracks Down on Outdoor Drinking at New York Bars

by biasharadigest

New York’s restaurants and bars, struggling to stay afloat with skeleton staffs and reduced to takeout, delivery and outdoor dining, suffered another blow on Thursday when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo placed new limits on their ability to serve alcohol.

The most significant restriction bans the sale of alcohol to customers who do not also buy food. In normal times, snacks like popcorn and pretzels would meet that requirement, but in the current environment they do not, Mr. Cuomo said in an interview after the announcement.

Bars and restaurants offering outdoor dining must serve something more closely resembling a meal with any alcohol, Mr. Cuomo said in the interview. A proprietor serving a bag of potato chips with a couple of beers would be in violation, he said.

Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, a trade group, predicted that the rule would create public safety problems.

“Prohibiting people seated at a table from having a beer on a hot summer day unless they order food is counterproductive,” Mr. Rigie said. “People will simply gravitate to stoops, streets and parks with open containers, creating less safe conditions elsewhere.”

The rule already applied to to-go alcohol orders. But it was unclear how strictly bars and restaurants, desperate to offset crushing financial losses, were abiding by it, or how seriously it was being enforced. It now also covers orders consumed at outdoor restaurant seats.

In a related move, Mr. Cuomo said there would be increased scrutiny of an existing rule that had been widely flouted: Patrons must have seats. No standing and lingering with drink in hand will be allowed.

“No food? Then no alcohol,” Mr. Cuomo said at the morning news briefing where he announced the crackdown.

The governor said at the briefing that the moves, which apply statewide, were meant to enforce social distancing and the wearing of face coverings and to avoid a second coronavirus wave in what was the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States earlier this year.

Mr. Cuomo and others expressed alarm about scenes, captured in photos and videos that were shared widely on social media, of large groups gathered in the East Village and Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan and areas of Brooklyn and Queens with little apparent regard for maintaining social distance.

“It’s wrong,” Mr. Cuomo said at the news briefing. “It’s dangerous. It’s selfish. It’s unacceptable. It’s also illegal.”

“The concept here was bars and restaurants would be allowed to do outdoor dining,” he continued. “That is a dining situation. You go with several people, you sit at a table and you have a meal. That would limit the exposure to the people at that table and then the tables are socially distanced.”

Instead, the governor said, “If you’re not eating a meal and you’re just drinking, then it’s just an outdoor bar and people are mingling and they’re not isolated and individual tables, and that’s what we’re seeing.”

Since restaurants and bars in New York City were allowed to open for outdoor service on June 22, throngs of people who had largely been stuck at home for months filled the streets of neighborhoods heavy with bars and restaurants to drink and socialize.

In the interview, Mr. Cuomo cited several issues he hoped the crackdown would address: bars that serve alcohol to-go and then let customers loiter and drink nearby; bars that try to pass off snacks as “dining” for outdoor customers; and bars that do not even bother doing that.

“We said outdoor dining,” he said. “We didn’t say outdoor bars.”

State Liquor Authority investigators will enforce the rules and local authorities are expected to do the same, Mr. Cuomo said in the interview. Any establishment that receives three violations will be shut down, and particularly egregious violations could result in the immediate loss of a liquor license or closing before a third violation.

For the food service industry — a sector that is vital to New York City’s identity in myriad ways and has seen 189,000 workers laid off or furloughed in March and April — the governor’s announcement was the second major setback in recent weeks.

Restaurants and bars had been poised to reopen for indoor dining last week at reduced capacity and with other restrictions as the city moved toward the fourth phase of its reopening process.

But on July 1, Mayor Bill de Blasio, in consultation with Mr. Cuomo, halted the return of indoor dining indefinitely as the number of virus cases surged in states that had moved more quickly to allow it, raising the specter of a second wave of infections in New York.

Melissa Fleischut, the president of the New York Restaurant Association, a trade group, said she was baffled by the governor’s announcement and that the lack of details was confusing.

“We’re trying to get clarification on exactly what he means by this,” Ms. Fleischut said, adding, “We’re getting questions now from folks: ‘Is a bag of chips food? Is Slim Jim food? What is food?’”

Mr. Rigie of the hospitality alliance also took issue with the governor for putting too much of the onus for enforcing social-distancing and other public health rules on bars and restaurant owners and employees.

“Businesses need to be responsible for the activity on their property,” he said. “But staff certainly can’t be deputized to police the streets.”

At Fitzgerald’s Pub on Third Avenue in Manhattan’s Kips Bay neighborhood, the announcement made Denis Fitzgerald, the owner, think of one of his regulars: a man in his 70s who stops by each night after dinner to sit and have two beers.

“If the new regulations are as they seem,” Mr. Fitzgerald said, “that means we can’t serve him.”

Fitzgerald’s does offer the kind of food that would qualify under Mr. Cuomo’s rules: pub staples like shepherd’s pie and fish and chips served at improvised street seating inside an alcove fashioned out of plastic barricades.

“It’s like bars don’t exist,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “Everything is dining now.”

The governor’s announcement, he said, was just the latest in a series of shifting requirements. Emails with instructions from different state agencies arrive in the middle of the night — although none so far about the rules announced on Thursday — and the possibility of indoor dining remains far from certain.

“We hired six people back in preparation for indoor dining,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “Two days later we were told ‘no indoor dining.’”

More than anything, he said, he wants clarity and consistency from elected officials and regulators.

“We certainly did our part,” he said. “We closed our business for four months.”

Luis Ferré-Sadurní, Matthew Haag and Sean Piccoli contributed reporting.

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