[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