New Regulation Bans New York Bars From Serving Alcoholic Beverages Outdoors Without Food

Governor Andrew Cuomo said the decision comes after establishments failed to comply with existing regulations.

Yasmin Gulec
Jul 17, 2020 · 4 min read
Waitress graphic by Maggie Chirdo.

After a spike in outdoor drinking, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Thursday that only establishments that serve food will be allowed to serve alcoholic beverages to sit-down guests — effectively killing walk-up bar services in New York City.

The prohibition of walk-up bar services comes after videos of bar patrons congregating outside without masks went viral. Previously, bars could serve alcohol for those who wanted to do outdoor dining as long as the operation offered food on the menu, but ordering food to get a drink wasn’t a requirement. Cuomo alleged that customers were loitering outside bars and ignored social distancing guidelines, so now if patrons want drinks, they will have to order meals and be seated. To-go drink options will still be available if also accompanied by food.

“The State itself has looked at over 5,000 establishments in downstate New York and found many cases of a failure to comply. It’s wrong. It’s dangerous. It’s selfish,” Cuomo said during a Thursday phone call with reporters, adding that bars and restaurants were the primary problem areas. “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.”

Alex Holden, the general manager for Union Pool, a pool supply store turned bar in Brooklyn, said that they had not been doing takeout or deliveries even though one of the features of the bar is a functioning taco truck. Located inside the bar in a courtyard space, the taco truck reopened once outdoor dining was permitted. Holden shared that the bar would not have opened without the truck.

“We decided to take our time and carefully reopen after lots of consideration for the safety of our staff and our customers,” Holden said. “Today’s new regulations made all of that planning a waste of time, money and energy.”

Holden also said he felt the new regulations were nonsensical.

“If you are at a restaurant and want to order another glass of wine after your meal, do you have to order more food to accompany that second glass of wine?” Holden wrote in an email to The Interlude. “Cuomo suggests that if you are not eating a meal, it’s just an outdoor bar. Sounds like he wants to close all bars and keep restaurants open. It would be more productive for him to just come out and say that.”

Cuomo also announced the “Three Strikes and You’re Closed” initiative that will shut down operations with three or more violations of social distancing, and reiterated the pre-existing regulation that all patrons outdoor dining patrons must be seated. This is the latest addition to regulations for the hospitality industry. When Phase Two started on June 22, outdoor dining was permitted. The new statement also reiterated the pre-existing regulation that all patrons have to be seated and cannot stand outside.

Holden said that the new regulation may be riskier than having people line up for the bar while abiding to social distancing rules. “Now our staff is being told they have to come out from behind the bar and visit each table over and over throughout the evening,” he said. “This is a decision that seems to put our staff at more risk, not less.”

Andrew Rigie, the executive director of NYC Hospitality Alliance, told The Interlude that he finds the new regulation unhelpful and even damaging to small businesses.

“Prohibiting an adult from having a beer on a hot summer day while seated at a table without ordering food is counterproductive to getting people off the streets and seated at tables,” Rigie said. “Businesses need to be responsible for the activity on their property, but we can’t continue to require restaurant and bar workers to effectively police the streets. It puts them in harm’s way and subjects small businesses to huge liability for actions out of their control.”

Max Green, managing partner of Blue Quarter, a cocktail bar hidden inside Mediterranean restaurant Local92, said that neighborhood bars and dive bars were going to struggle the most from these changes because they do not have the resources, ability, or desire to make food.

“Their margins have been decimated over the years, as their leases have come to an end their landlord doubles or triples rent,” Green said. “Between community boards twisting every hopeful bar owner’s arm behind their back, fines from the health department that are essentially pay-for-play grading systems, and the rolling back to pre-prohibition-era [sic] drinking laws, they have no chance.”

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Created by reporters sidelined by the pandemic, The Interlude is a new Medium publication covering everything from news and politics to lifestyle and culture.

Yasmin Gulec

Written by

Istanbulite in New York. Journalist-ish. Passionate about food, drink, politics, culture and nightlife. Anthony Bourdain #1 Fan.

The Interlude

Created by reporters sidelined by the pandemic, The Interlude is a new Medium publication covering everything from news and politics to lifestyle and culture.