Wednesday, August 5, 2020

East Village bar owner petitioning against Cuomo’s COVID-19 menu mandate has liquor license suspended for not serving food


[Photos by Stacie Joy]

Last week, Abby Ehmann, the owner of Lucky at 168 Avenue B, launched a petition asking Gov. Cuomo to roll back his mandate that bars must serve a "substantive" amount of food in order to stay open during the pandemic.

Yesterday, Cuomo announced that the state has suspended liquor licenses for 11 New York State bars — including Lucky — for "egregious violations of pandemic-related Executive Orders." (To date during COVID-19, the state has suspended liquor licenses for 94 bars.)

This is what the State Liquor Authority had to say about Lucky:

On August 3rd, investigators with the state's multi-agency task force interviewed the owner of the business, who admitted to serving alcohol to patrons without food, in addition to acknowledging the business does not have a kitchen or prepare food, which has been a requirement of all licensed taverns dating back to 1964. The licensee previously had been cited and disciplined, in 2019, a "non bona fide" for having no food available.



Suspension orders remain in effect indefinitely, with the maximum penalty including the permanent revocation of the license and fines of up to $10,000 per violation, according to the SLA.

Ehmann has been advocating for a "seating not eating" rule. As she stated on the petition, signed by nearly 2,800 people as of last night: "Rather than legislating what customers must order, I believe it would be safer and smarter to require customers be seated while consuming whatever they want. If no standing is allowed, the possibility of overcrowding is eliminated."

With the threat of the tropical storm yesterday, Ehmann did not open her bar, and was unaware that she had her license suspended until we contacted her for comment.

Ehmann told EVG correspondent Stacie Joy that she believes the state targeted her business. News of the petition has been covered in the Daily News, WCBS News Radio 880 and Eater.

She offered this update last night on what happened:

I have been very vocal in my opposition to this law. On Monday, Aug. 3 at 8 p.m. I received a visit from two representatives of the NY State Liquor Authority. Their only concern was if my customers — all eight of them — had ordered food with their alcohol. No other safety measures were inspected or questioned. Also, no other bars or restaurants in close proximity to mine received such visits, causing me to believe that I was intentionally targeted.

This is troubling, especially given how many of my bar and restaurant owner peers have expressed fear of retaliation when asked to join me in this battle.

I thought that I had received my first warning — a somewhat unofficial document consisting of a Xeroxed piece of paper with the headline NOTICE AND WARNING [see image below] as opposed to an actual ticket specifying my violations. But moments ago I discovered that my business is listed as one of those whose license has been suspended. NO notification. NO "three strikes." This is an outrage.



As for background, on June 22, outdoor dining returned to NYC. At the time, Cuomo did not specify that only restaurants could provide the service. Bars, who previously were selling drinks to go, could now set up tables provided they also continue to serve snacks.

However, with some bars not adhering to any kind of social distancing, Cuomo said on July 23 that to stay open, establishments needed to offer menu items beyond chips and popcorn.

"To be a bar, you had to have food available — soups, sandwiches, etc.," he said during a press conference. "More than just hors d'oeuvres, chicken wings, you had to have some substantive food."

Bar owners, already under a financial strain and working with skeleton crews, were left scrambling to create a menu and kitchen or face significant fines or the threat of closure — even if they never served food before the COVID-19 PAUSE.

In reporting on the petition Monday, Eater noted that Lucky had been selling Hot Pockets via a microwave. Per Eater: "In the past, Ehmann received a $2,000 fine from the SLA for not offering food on the bar's kitchen-less premises."

Despite the suspension and further loss of revenue, Ehmann said that she is doubling down on the food issue with her petition drive.

Previously on EV Grieve:
A petition to allow patrons to sit at a bar without having to order a meal

60 comments:

Anonymous said...

What's this law that says they must serve food "since 1964"? Do they just ignore it most of the time?

afbp said...

place the lectern on the side for a moment---a 'BAR' environment often seems to lend itself to self centered/selfish behavior---having-said-that---we are in the midst of a HUGE issue that affects all of us---JUST FOLLOW THE NEW RULES :)

ed anger said...

So only bars that were also restaurants are going to survive this, pure bars are screwed. Thanks Cuomo.

Anonymous said...

These small businesses had just figured out a plan to open up during unprecedented circumstances, when the order to also serve food was enacted with no advance prep time. It smacked of being the wrong solution to the problem of mobs of binge drinkers milling about without covid-related precautions. Legally serving food requires all kinds of certification and equipment that can not be turned around overnight.

Anonymous said...

Its time for the rule of law to be returned to NY State and Cuomo's rule by decree to be ended. Its a dictatorship. The corporate media loves it.

Anonymous said...

I have been wondering how the residents of Avenue B between 10th and 12th feel about all the bars and restaurants on that stretch right now. On the one hand, I want to support our local businesses, but the one jazz bar has singers outside and music playing. And the buildings all around are full of people who need to sleep so they can work the next day. And these outdoor spots are packed with people. They are not wearing masks, and there isn’t much space between them. I cross the street now when I get to 12th and walk on the east side of the street to avoid it all. Am I overly worried, or can the virus spread among unmasked people packed together outside like this?

Anonymous said...

I've seen countless crowded bars in the east village not following safety protocols when it comes to covid. Let this be a lesson. If we are to ever get back to normalcy, these establishments need to abide by the protocols put in place for everyones safety.

Anonymous said...

What I heard Cuomo say last week was that to obtain a liquor license the establishment must serve food. So, are all the bars I’ve been to over the years that served only chips been in violation of their license the whole time?

Corinne said...

I go to Lucky a couple of times a week after work, and they have always enforced distancing rules when I’ve been there. I hope they are able to get their license back.

Anonymous said...

Buy a hotdog cart and sell veggie and meat dogs with all the fixins. Most of the public who also have lost jobs and soon may face eviction does not care whether a bar stays open now or not.

Anonymous said...

We were never asked if wanted to give up our sidewalks and parking spaces. This is pure expropriation of public property to private use. Did City Council even vote on this or was it all done by DiBlasio decree?

Anonymous said...

I've been warning you about Lord Cuomo for years now _ his biggest achievements are replacing LaGuardia with a mall and enacting a statewide tracking program of vehicle movements.

Anonymous said...

Cuomo largely skates because we managed to get to where we are today while the rest of the country flounders — I'm looking at you, Florida. Still, he's a thug, whose rough edges won't ever smooth enough to play at any state fair or Butter Cow statue in Iowa. No elocution lesson can smooth over Mario's boy from Queens (okay, maybe it worked the one on CNN).

But he may be right in this instance.

Anonymous said...

Its a stupid law. But it’s not that hard to sell the minimal with a hot plate. Just ensure any customer is seated.

Giovanni said...

If it’s any consolation, Professor Thom’s on 2nd Ave. which was a SantaCon magnet has permanently closed.

noble neolani said...

Covid 19 spreads when people not wearing mask are closer than 6 feet. Most businesses do not allow their clients to cluster together or socialize the way bars have allowed their customers to do so on sidewalks and the streets. It is an impossible situation for this type of business to solve unless people are seated at tables and distanced from each other.

I don't have a solution for bar owners and I feel for all small business owners during this time but we as a city, state and nation won't get through this ever if we don't act responsibly. If people voted and voted for progressive candidates we might have a system as many European countries have to fund small businesses through the duration of this pandemic.

Anonymous said...

Re Anonymous at 9:08am - The situation at Rue B on Avenue B between 11th and 12th has become intolerable. I want businesses to survive but this establishment has no regard for the people who live in our community. They are using the crisis to disrespect their residential neighbors, who have nowhere to go and must endure loud live music every night. There is no social distancing at this establishment.

Anonymous said...

Why are we allowing this to happen?

Anonymous said...

I'm on B at 10th and I really enjoy the outdoor dining setups, especially Rue B and the live jazz. The loss of parking spaces is a plus as far too much of our public spaces are devoted to the auto. The only real issue I've seen with the swarms of day drinkers, besides the lack of social distancing and masks but that's common now, is whether they are providing bathrooms.

I'm unclear what the requirements are for food service. An old school hotdog cart with knishes? A halal truck? I don't work in the bar trade anymore so I haven't looked into it but it would be common city sense that if you're going to start a high profile petition fight with the Governor it's better to have all all the T's crossed and I's dotted in advance.

Anonymous said...

Heil Cuomo!

Anonymous said...

Old saying - "never poke a bear in the eye with a sharp stick." Next time Lucky's, run silent and run deep.

Abby Ehmann said...

For those of you commenting, I have only one small table, a two-top, on the sidewalk. The rest of my seating is in my back yard. So I am not blocking anyone's sidewalk, I am not obstructing anything, I am not using the street, and I have been MILITANT about social distancing. I have also, however, been very vocal about people being FORCED to order food with their beverages, which does NOTHING to prevent the spread of the virus. I require ALL my customers to remain SEATED and ONLY with people they know. Just an FYI. I'm sure that won't have any bearing on some attitudes but I am doing everything I can not to kill my friends.

Anonymous said...

It is fair to say that most people who live right around here do everything possible to avoid walking on the sidewalk on the west side of Avenue B from 10th Street up because it has become crowded with un-distanced, unmasked people consuming alcohol. For better or for worse that is not a high public health priority for our neighborhood or city right now and has to be curtailed either voluntarily or by state enforcement.

Anonymous said...

NYC has 8.5 million residents and 23,000 covid deaths. Florida has almost 20 million residents and 7,400 covid deaths. Fl,CA and Tx have fewer deaths combined than Ny state. Why do people think Ny did a good job with covid?

Anonymous said...

Wondering why everyone is blaming the establishments that are only trying to survive rather than the actual people standing around on the street not social distancing and wearing masks. Why are not the people violating the safety protocols being blamed? SEATING NOT EATING would alleviate much of this problem.

Anonymous said...

Even in good times the proliferation of bars in the last 20 years has hurt the neighborhood. They employ a small number of people and keep people who also have jobs to do awake at night with music and loud talking and screaming. And now they are putting us all in danger. I am already tired of having to cross the street and dodging drunk people who don’t social distance or wear masks. I get the bar owners want to keep their businesses going but if they aren’t going to reign in their customers, they need to be shut down. The selfishness and oh poor me attitude they exhibit is horrifying. We are in the midst of a deadly pandemic. People are in fear for their lives and struggling to keep a roof over their heads. I love jazz but come on.

dwg said...

When Hoylman announced his bill for sidewalk and street seating I wrote to him expressing concern that the burden of policing music and crowds was going to fall on residents and that's exactly what's happened. We are the first line of policing and reporting. Fat Buddha at 13th and A has been blasting music with a speaker on the sidewalk and a DJ. You can hear it a block away and it's caused other bar/restaurants to do the same to "keep up". It puts the party/club atmosphere right out on the street and everybody gets louder. Nobody wants businesses to fail but music should not be allowed. People are going to come whether there is music or not.

Anonymous said...

I really hope Lucky gets its liquor license back! I signed the petition. But I don't understand the argument of "being FORCED to order food with their beverages, which does NOTHING to prevent the spread of the virus."
The food thing was never about the virus spread. By my understanding, it was to stop hordes of fratty new school E.V. shitheads from standing around on the sidewalks screaming, pissing, puking, all whil unmasked. And I saw plenty of that. I so want a civilized outdoor or backyard dining scene. I hate the huge conglomerate of a-holes taking advantage, and I hate that small, cool, sincere places are paying for their actions. I know plenty of places that just drop a placebo cheese plate on the table w/the drinks. No harm in faking it - another testament to the creative NYC spirit as we navigate troubled and tiresome times!

Anonymous said...

I think the manager of Lucky is doing a great job, but the bars all around her aren’t and she is paying the price. I hate that it has to fall on a woman but maybe she can lead a coalition of bar owners to pressure the bad seeds to be more responsible because it is those bars that are hurting all the bars not the neighborhood it’s with legitimate gripes.

Anonymous said...

Backyard gardens for bars & restaurants are equally annoying for neighbors. I'm sure it's nice for patrons to get some air but the sound echoes to the surrounding buildings.

Nikki Cheeks said...

Clearly this is bullying an owner into submission and scarring other owners out of solidarity.

Never let a good crisis go to waste. I’m angry.

Lower East Sider said...

In other words, your working and making a living. Screw those small business owners who are being wiped out because of arbitrary rules and regulations. You can buy booze from a liquor store, go shopping, etc, but not to a bar. On the beach you can walk but not lie down. Give me a break. If your so scared of the virus, stay home, oh, but then you can't make a living which your so intent on making sure others can't.

Anonymous said...

I don't see how it's bullying. According to the article, she was fined in 2019 for this. Starting a petition, stating you're a bar owner and oppose the food serving aspect is like raising your hand and yelling 'we don't serve food here'.

Anonymous said...

Forgive me if I shed no tears for people who are "special" and feel they don't need to abide by the rules that exist for the purpose of SAVING PEOPLE'S LIVES in this pandemic - and that includes both owners & customers in bars across NYC.

There are entirely too many bars in the East Village, period. There is no need for such density of bars, and the profusion of bars is absolutely detrimental to the quality of life for everyone who lives around here.

Maybe the city can designate a pier or two on the West side as "booze alley", then all the bars and the people who have to drink in order to have "fun" can go there, and spare the rest of us.

TL;DR: Follow the law & wear a damn mask! Stay sober or else get drunk at home.

Jill W said...

I think with all these comments we can see that Corona virus has nothing at all to do with Lucky's closure. This a a morality issue-- in that people complained about drinking & noise, and the governor listened to them. He is willing to try to save restaurants in our city but not bars. Behavior was not a factor here. Lucky Bar was punished for not being a restaurant. Unfortunately it shut down one of the quietest, least "bro" bars in the entire neighborhood.

Choresh Wald said...

Parking spots are not “ours” since 80% of area residents do not own cars and so never had any access to this street space now being utilized as outdoor dining.

Choresh Wald said...

Keep on the good work Abby!

Anonymous said...

I am hesitant to comment, lest my place of business be targeted... Seats not eats makes sense, I should be force fed three substantial meals in an evening that I choose to visit three locales?

Neighbor said...

It is so absurd that the state is harassing bars and forcing them to serve food. If bars, restaurants, or anywhere else is actively encouraging being unsafe then punish them, but it's absurd that they aren't letting bars serve people just alcohol responsibly. Lucky, in addition being a great bar, is spot on with this petition. If bars and patrons are behaving there is NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SITTING AND EATING AND SITTING AND DRINKING. Bars are people's livelihood and employ people. If we want them to survive give them the means to do so.

LPIFLY said...

Papa Cuomo ain't having it.

Anonymous said...

Bars serve drinks, restaurants serve food/drink ... since the beginning of time... A thoughtless law is silly, we the people didn’t vote on this silly law. Why should it be blindly accepted?

Anonymous said...

We the people did not vote on this nanny state rule of cuomo- the petition is for him to concider a more intelligent rule. Force feeding the population is ridiculous and has no bearing on safety... also, concider that if there were in fact too many bars, bars would shut for lack of money... there is clearly a desire for nightlife, even if you personally choose to stay at home... it is definitely possible to be safe and social at the same time... pls reread the petition and concider its view

Ron said...

I can't believe the number of people complaining about 'noise' coming from Rue B and other outdoor spaces. Everything closes at 11. The live Jazz is really nice. And the backyard at Lucky was closing at 10 every night just like the earlier rules said.

I suspect it's more of the newcomer assholes who recently bought in the neighborhood because it's a smidge cheaper than Gramarcy due to it being NYCs bar district and are now trying to squash the bar scene so their apartment values go up.

And clearly Lucky was specifically targeted. There are lots of bars around the EV that aren't serving food and they have no strikes. The governor is so thin-skinned that the publicity around that petition all but ensured revenge inspections.

Anonymous said...

@4:40pm: If you're bar-hopping, is that your biggest concern? One course at each of 3 bars. If you go to more than 3 bars in an evening, you have a totally different issue to deal with.

Anonymous said...

Everyone has frustrations to comment about the bars and the noise from the crowds but no one has mentioned anything about the restaurants with all the loud music and insane crowds. This is going on corner to corner on every single block. Do you really believe all these people are ordering food because they are at a restaurant. No they are drinking and not ordering food.
And if the governor and the mayor want to go after the bars the restaurants should also be under scrutiny too. They get away with WAY MORE. Look at all the people 7th Street and avenue A there are parties every night. And nobody's attacking the restaurants- why because they build decks in the street and put mega umbrellas up in front of residential buildings
With tables - so this makes everything ok?
Reality is nobody enforces mandatory mass wearing.
Everyone wants to resume life as usual- but there is death walking through the streets and until statistics are better and we are safer. There needs to be less groups hanging out whether it's eating or drinking- it's ridiculous to make people buy food if they're drinking at a bar because it's not mandatory to buy food if you're drinking at a restaurant.
Remember- if you're eating and drinking you are not wearing a mask and tables are right up against each other whether you're at a bar or a restaurant it's all the same thing.
The idea that you can't catch this virus if you are sitting and eating is nonsense.

sophocles said...

To call Cuomo anti-bar doesn't make sense. Cuomo appointed Chairman Bradley, who distributed liquor licenses in the East Village and Lower East Side like a drunken sailor. That Cuomo is hammering down shows me how rightfully scared he is of the virus.

I don't know about 1964, and I don't know Abbey or her bar, but I 99% guarantee that when she applied for an exception to the 500-foot rule about 4 years ago, she included a proposed menu of food she would be serving--and it wasn't four varieties of hot pockets. So if I'm right, why is she shocked now that she has to serve food?

I don't see that seating not eating is a solution. Abbey herself says "I cannot control ... If others follow the rules of social distancing." Are we to believe that she can control it? Requiring people to eat and drink instead of drink and drink is to me a common-sense way to control uninhibited behavior, and that's what were trying to do, isn't?

Let's face it, many of the too many bars in the EV have acted with indifference to the neighborhood as a whole, so you can't count on them to protect us. Hence the need for the hammer.

Neighbor said...

Sophocles your argument is stupid. If you want a hammer why does it need to be food? Make it social distance or this great seating only idea. Its just as easy to enforce and let's bars survive.

Anonymous said...

The newcomers aren’t the ones complaining. They’re partying at these bars!

Anonymous said...

Indeed, Lets face it, New York city, that city that sleeps when? Can't remember... This neighborhood has been a social scene for more than three hundred years. As a drunken sailior, I can attest to the virtues of its gloriousness. For I am well aware of our proud history. The reason we all came here...

As citizens, We will vote on the laws that we agree to obey.
Force feeding us as geese to the foie gras slaughter is not acceptable.

Fire trucks and police sirens scream past my window each night. I understand the necessity, and do not complain..
The citizens of our city are for the most part being safe in this plague. If one falls down, we certainly DO NOT administer a HAMMER. for that speaks of fascism.

Music, Art and Revelry is the reason I have made my life here. How about you?

XXX
bc

I hear park slope is quite nice this time of year...

Anonymous said...

I for one am appalled there is not a button to click stating that I have eaten a substantial meal before drinking and commenting here. letters will be written!

Anonymous said...

The sad thing is these places aren’t going to make it through the fall/winter if we don’t get back to a place where people can be inside. I worry about all the owners who are still paying rent or aren’t paying and owe months of rent now. They aren’t being realistic. We are in a global pandemic. This is a long-term problem that isn’t going to magically go away. We have a federal government that is doing nothing to help. It is going to spread in New York again and likely in a much bigger way. Serving customers outdoors isn’t going to cut it. I miss all the places that have already closed but they made the right decision financially. How awful is it that we’ve reached this point? But it is better to leave with something so you can start over if the day comes in a year or two when things get back to normal.

Anonymous said...

@Choresh 4:27PM. 85% of people in New York County are over 18 and pay a lot in taxes to put your children through public school. 80% of people in Manhattan don't own a car but in our neighborhood I believe it's much higher, at least in my building.

Anonymous said...

EXACTLY!

Max said...

Having absolute power to rule by decree has never ended well. Combined with stubborn nanny attitude it turns into a disaster real fast.
If I'm hungry - I go to a restaurant, if I want a drink - I go to a bar.
As for distancing - it is a separate problem, solution to which shouldn't involve turning bars into restaurants, regulating items on their menu or forcibly feeding folks against their will.
Do we need more government?, - sure, like we don't have enough..

Anonymous said...

I don’t think you’d find anyone who said the response was perfect, but NY was the first state hit with covid, which at the time we knew even less about than we do now-and the density and subway system added to the increase in spread. There’s absolutely no reason the number of deaths in any state should be in the thousands, and rising, in August.

Anonymous said...

10:35 AM Parking is not public property, it's owned by the city and they can do what they want with it. Just a clarification.

tttroy said...

Then move back to Beacon, you live in a city, not on a farm!

tttroy said...

Yes this was totally unfair, Abby I’ve witnessed you at work, keeping social distancing in place, more so than most other bars and restaurants.

It’s been completely unfair to bars/restaurants with all the many ever changing city/state regulations. The food law makes zero sense, forcing bars to sell food that no one wants...wouldn’t the focus be better served on enforcing social distancing and other safety measures insuring a safe environment for all NYers to visit?

Anonymous said...

When most people go out for a drink at a bar they're not looking to eat food.. they just want a drink in a social environment.

When people want food, they go to a restaurant.

How in the f**k can Cuomo shut down bars for not having a full kitchen?? This is some transparently draconian bullshit designed to destroy the bar community.

Giovanni said...

Put simply, social distancing and drinking alcohol don’t go together. Bars and restaurants are where the general public is most likely to spread the disease. Unless you want to go back to the pandemic numbers of last April, then there is no choice but to keep restrictions in place until there is a vaccine. The government needs to help people who are suffering, the employees and small businesses, but of course they won’t because look who’s in charge. So vote!

Via the NyTimes:

“In Louisiana, roughly a quarter of the state’s 2,360 cases since March that were outside of places like nursing homes and prisons have stemmed from bars and restaurants, according to state data. In Maryland, 12 percent of new cases last month were traced to restaurants, contact tracers there found, and in Colorado, 9 percent of outbreaks overall have been traced to bars and restaurants.

In a recent week in San Diego, 15 of the 39 new cases in community settings stemmed from restaurants. And in Washington, D.C., cases have begun to sneak up since the city reopened indoor dining.

In New York City and many other places, indoor dining, which has proved far more dangerous than outdoor eating, remains banned. Epidemiologists roundly agree that indoor dining, especially in bars, is far more likely to spawn outbreaks than outdoor settings.“