A few weeks ago, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued yet another executive order regulating bars and restaurants that are attempting to reopen safely under the state’s pandemic guidelines. This one was especially curious because it ordered any such businesses offering outdoor service to only serve liquor if customers also ordered “substantial amounts of food” with any alcohol purchase. The establishment must also offer a “sit down experience” under the order. This put bars like “Lucky” in the East Village in a tough spot, since they only served typical “bar food” items. Lucky’s owner, Abby Ehmann, found the regulation to be unfair and started a petition among local business owners and patrons, asking the Governor to rescind the order.
That’s when a most curious coincidence seemed to take place. Last week, officials from the State Liquor Authority showed up at Lucky for an unannounced inspection to see if customers were ordering food with their drinks. The owner received a “warning” that didn’t list any specific code violations. Then a few days later and with no additional inspections having taken place, Ehmann’s liquor license was unceremoniously suspended, effectively putting her out of business. (NY Eater)
Abby Ehmann, the owner of East Village dive bar Lucky, has had her liquor license suspended a week after she started a petition calling for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reverse the state’s new mandate that bars must serve substantial amounts of food with any alcohol purchase.
Ehmann says that two State Liquor Authority representatives visited the bar on Monday night at 8 p.m. to observe if the bar’s eight customers had ordered food with their drinks. After the visit, Ehmann received her first warning from the SLA on a piece of paper that did not list out the specific violations, she says. Shortly afterward, and with no further warnings, Lucky’s liquor license was suspended. Neighborhood news site EV Grieve first reported on the suspension.
“No other safety measures were inspected or questioned,” Ehmann says in an email. “Also, no other bars or restaurants in close proximity to mine received this inspection, causing me to believe that I was intentionally targeted for selective enforcement by the Governor and State Liquor Authority.”
It seems fairly clear that we’re seeing two different elements of the Cuomo administration on display here. One is the notorious temper of Governor Cuomo and his intolerance for anyone questioning his authority. The idea that he would personally seek to punish someone with the temerity to push back on his orders and talk to the press about it is not in the least farfetched for anyone familiar with this administration. The idea that this was all some sort of coincidence of timing is laughable.
But we’re also seeing yet another example of how far out of whack things have become as executives continue to create nonlegislative “laws” out of thin air under their broadly expanded powers during a declared time of crisis. Cuomo’s order regarding bars serving food was vague at best and hastily implemented. To the best of my knowledge, there is no legal definition of a “sit down experience” in the state’s legal codes. And what qualifies as a “substantial” amount of food? Presumably, that means more than some free peanuts on the bar, but would a hamburger meet the requirement? How about some mozzarella sticks?
More to the point, the order doesn’t make much sense to begin with. Why are people who are eating meals in an outdoor eatery setting any safer than people consuming drinks? You need to lower or remove your face mask to do either activity. And you probably need to leave your mask down for considerably longer while consuming an entire meal than you would to occasionally take a sip of your beverage. The order just sounds discriminatory and intended to punish bars more than restaurants, probably to avoid the image of people “partying” too much while they’re supposed to be helping stem the tide fo the plague.
Sadly, Ehmann probably won’t have much luck fighting this suspension. The courts continue to side with mayors and governors in almost all cases in the name of honoring temporary executive powers during a crisis. And the fact that this particular suspension clearly seems to be retribution for a perceived slight likely won’t sway the judges in this case either.