Last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo mandated that bars and other establishments serving alcohol must serve food with those beverages. The goal of the mandate was to ensure patrons of these establishments complied with the social distancing mandate requiring they be seated in order to reduce large gatherings. Bars and restaurants that failed to comply with Cuomo’s social distancing orders were subject to a “three strikes” rule where if they were found in violation three times they would be “closed for business” and that “egregious violations” could result in the immediate loss of a liquor license.
Last month, The Village Line in Kenmore, New York, mocked Governor Cuomo’s mandates with a satirical menu called “NYS Safe Menu” that spelled out an obscenity and Cuomo’s name in its list of food offerings to comply with the mandate. The menu went viral, and now the bar’s license has been suspended over social distancing violations the bar says never happened.
Governor Cuomo, who is responsible for thousands of unnecessary deaths by forcing nursing homes to take patients who tested positive for COVID-19, announced the suspensions last week.
“The rising rate of infection among young people and the issue of crowded bars is not unique to New York — the World Health Organization has warned about it, states all across the country are dealing with it, and even the President has said young people should avoid bars — but we are taking decisive action in the Empire State to make sure it does not undermine our progress against the coronavirus,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement.
“Last night, our task force observed violations at 41 more establishments downstate, and today we are suspending 7 bars from across the state that have flouted coronavirus-related rules,” he announced. “The State Police and State Liquor Authority are doing their jobs — and we need local governments to step up and do theirs.” The Village Line was the only bar out of the seven announced last week that wasn’t from downstate.
According to the release from New York State, “on July 24th, in response to complaints that the premises does not serve food, an SLA investigator entered the tavern and observed three patrons seated at the bar drinking alcohol without food. After requesting a menu from an employee, the investigator was told he could go next door for pizza and bring it back to the bar — an admission that no food was available. The tavern was charged with violating Executive Order 202.52 for serving alcohol without food, in addition to a charge of ‘non bona fide’ for not having food available, which has been a requirement of all licensed taverns dating back to 1964.”
“We didn’t serve anyone alcohol without having food present,” Chris Gardella, the owner’s brother, told Spectrum News. “As far as we can tell, it was someone who came [in to] order wings, which we didn’t have. We recommended they go somewhere else and that was that.”
As for the patrons who were allegedly drinking alcohol without food, Gardella says they probably had already finished eating.
The managers at The Village Line say they were targeted because of their satirical menu. “Cuomo and his administration undoubtedly targeted The Village Line, with the goal of intimidating business owners and individuals with a clear, explicit threat: comply with the Governor’s orders and virtue-signaling, or risk losing your economic livelihood,” Gardella told PJ Media. Even prior to the statewide lockdowns, The Village Line was “not a heavily trafficked establishment.”
“At any given time, we might have a rotation of 5-10 people coming and going, enjoying a laid-back atmosphere while watching a game over a beer with some friends,” he explained. The state claims that it received complaints customers, but according to Gardella, The Village Line is a small, neighborhood bar that is not a “party-type” bar that Cuomo’s mandate was intended for, and most of its customers “have been long-time regulars, who swing by after a hard day’s work to enjoy a drink before heading home to their families.” The bar never received any complaints from any of its customers about violations of social distancing guidelines. The management and staff also encouraged their customers to take proper precautions to ensure their safety and that of other guests and staff.
“Social distancing guidelines were followed at all times at The Village Line,” explained Gardella. “Hand sanitizer was made available to guests, and proper signage with social distancing guidelines were posted on the door before entry was allowed.”
“Our customers are our family, and there’s nothing more important than protecting the health of our community,” Gardella told PJ Media.
The Village Line is a small bar already struggling during the pandemic, and the suspension of its liquor license has hurt its ability to pay its staff and serve its customers.
Other establishments subject to Cuomo’s food mandates have called them unnecessary. “The rule issued by Governor Cuomo was supposedly to stop large groups from congregating around bars—but, establishments were already subject to reduced capacities and required to have customers seated with just their own party and at least 6 feet apart from other parties while eating and drinking in a restaurant or bar under the reopening rules,” a representative of another establishment told PJ Media on the condition of anonymity to prevent retaliation from the state.
“Those first rules could have been enforced without adding another hoop for businesses and customers to jump through during already tough times,” the anonymous representative added. “The governor didn’t need to get into deciding what people order or what types of food are considered a meal.”
Governor Cuomo was widely mocked a couple weeks ago for saying that chicken wings were not “substantial” enough to count as meal under his mandate.
The Village Line has received support from the local community since its menu went viral. “The feedback from the community has been overwhelmingly positive,” Gardella said, “with the vast majority of people supporting The Village Line’s satirical response to Andrew Cuomo’s abuse of office and authoritarian behavior.” Gardella said the managers have received little criticism for the “vulgar” nature of the message. Gardella believes the reason for this is that “our citizenry has far more respect for the 1st Amendment than our Governor does.”
“Whether one agrees or disagrees with how we chose to express our opinions, nearly everyone in the community has defended our right to do so,” Gardella added. “The state’s decision to cite The Village Line was not done to protect New Yorkers from COVID-19; it was done to silence us and to get us to submit to their whimsical, draconian, and authoritative policies that were implemented without input from our state legislature.”
The Village Line’s suspension is permanent pending a hearing.
Matt Margolis is the author of the new book Airborne: How The Liberal Media Weaponized The Coronavirus Against Donald Trump, and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis