On Friday night in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, crowds of people flooded the street. They weren’t there for a protest though, they were there to eat.
It wasn’t just Manhattan. Across the five boroughs, streets were flooded with patrons at restaurants, sitting down to dine outside. And New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo took notice.
Currently, America’s most populous city is only in Phase 1 of reopening. That means restaurants and bars can offer curbside pickup and in-store pickup.
Phase 2 will allow limited capacity dine-in and outdoor dining — so long as guests wear masks when communicating with staff, guests clean up after themselves and tables are six feet apart.
That’s coming, but city officials have not yet given the okay for either indoor or outdoor table service. And after last weekend’s display of restaurant crowds, it may take longer to get to Phase 2.
In one of his daily press briefings over the weekend, Cuomo addressed the illegal increase in outdoor dining and a lack of social distancing across the city, threatening to punish these restaurants and even the city itself.
“I understand that it’s not popular,” Cuomo said during the briefing. But he urged local governments to govern.
Violators could lose their liquor license — the thing that has kept many of these New York City restaurants in business since to-go beverages have become legal.
In a statement, the director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance Andrew Rigie urged restaurant and bar operators across the city to follow the rules.
“Covid-19 has financially devastated restaurants and bars, and New Yorkers have been cooped up indoors for months due to the pandemic, so we understand the dire need of small businesses to generate revenue and people’s desire to socialize,” he said. “But the videos on the news and social media of outdoor dining and drinking sets our industry back. Serving customers who hang out on the sidewalks and streets violating open container laws, and setting up tables before we are permitted, jeopardizes the progress we’ve made to flatten the curve. And serving patrons not wearing masks does not help either.”
Responding to the lack of outdoor dining regulation, Rigie said, “However, this pent-up demand demonstrates why our restaurants and bars need a lawful, regulated outdoor eating and drinking system now, and must be provided clear guidelines and expectations on when they can open outdoors and inside.”
Over the weekend, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio was busy on Twitter and seen at several protests across Brooklyn, but he didn’t comment on Cuomo’s comments about NYC dining.
His last comment on crowded gatherings outside restaurants was in mid-May when he said “Get your drink. Go home. Don’t allow gatherings to occur. It’s not safe.”
Cuomo threatened to “come down” to the East Village himself and close down the restaurants after seeing an alarming video of crowds hanging around the street with no masks, ignoring social distancing guidelines.
Citizens across the city weren’t shy about posting the crowded streets for all to see.
But some restaurants were willing to push their luck.
White Horse Tavern, a restaurant in Greenwich Village, posted on Instagram that its patio was open for business.
A restaurant owner who didn’t wish to be identified, and is not the one shown below, told Eater that they put out chairs and tables for diners to wait while their dinner was being prepared. But, “what started as a place to rest quickly progressed into customers sitting in the chairs for hours, eating pastries and drinking cocktails and wine.”
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