Pop-up bar scene, tanning salon test shutdown rules in NYC
NEW YORK (AP) — What passes for a pandemic-era speakeasy these days in New York City isn’t secret at all.
On the sidewalks throughout the city, restaurants and bars that have only been allowed to offer takeout orders since March have been bending the rules by setting up outdoor tables and allowing patrons to linger for an extra round or two served through doors and windows.
Elsewhere around the city, clothing stores and a tanning salon have tried to reopen early — signs that some New Yorkers are itching to catch up with other parts of the country already freeing up their economies.
“It’s been this way more and more each week,” said Levi Nayman, 45, while hanging out outside a piano bar on Manhattan’s Restaurant Row one evening, sipping bourbon and listening to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” through outdoor speakers. “It’s better than nothing.”
The pop-up bar scene should be viewed as a test run for the official reopening, said Paul Denamiel, owner of the French restaurant Le Rivage, where three bar tables sat lined up along a curb.
“We’re sort of doing it now,” Denamiel said. “But we are taking social distancing very seriously.”
The scene was the same farther downtown in Chelsea, where young men and women congregated outside bars as masked bartenders passed drinks out the door. A chalkboard at one spot beckoned, “Coffee and cocktails! Frozen watermelon margarita - $10.”
In recent weeks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has given the green light to some upstate New York businesses to reopen with social-distancing and mask-wearing protocols. Not so in New York City, the national epicenter still reeling from more than 20,000 deaths.
Cuomo said Friday that some businesses in the city will probably be allowed to start reopening on June 8, but even then restaurants and bars in the city won’t be allowed to return to full service for weeks. The first phase of a reopening will allow some construction, wholesale and retail business to resume. The city is still determining what restrictions need to be in place, including capacity limits, before allowing the restaurant industry to reboot.
“I would love them back up and running immediately, but the safety ramifications of bars and restaurants are very different than the phase one industries,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The City Council is looking at trying to allow for proper social distancing by creating more space for outdoor dining. Legislation proposed this week would require the city to identify sidewalks, street and plazas suitable for table service and streamline the permit process that would allow it.
Until then, the New York Police Department has been tasked with visiting thousands of restaurants and small non-essential businesses each day to make sure they’re following the shutdown rules. The NYPD says in the vast majority of cases, officers are getting compliance.
Still, the New York Post reported this week that clothing and other stores in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park in Brooklyn were open for business in defiance of the shutdown orders.
And then there’s the case of Bobby Catone, owner of “Sunbelievable” on Staten Island.
Catone caused a stir when he tried to open the tanning salon Thursday with the support of local politicians, only to have the police crash the gathering and slap him with a $1,000 fine.
Canone, 57, said he was merely trying to avoid financial ruin and to satisfy regular customers who were telling him, “Just get me in and I’ll give you an extra $20” for a clandestine tanning session.
“I can’t run a business like that,” Canone said. “I wanted to open honestly.”
Staten Island, despite about 980 coronavirus deaths, “should be treated as a separate region,” he argued. “It’s an island.”
Other New Yorkers are less enthusiastic about the push to loosen the rules. One neighbor of the High Line Hotel in Chelsea recently complained to management about people congregating at tables — without masks -- in a front garden where a cart offered coffee drinks. The hotel has since posted a sign saying anyone without a mask will be asked to leave.
“There are people who will say this is harmless,” said Eric Marcus, who wrote about the hotel dust-up in his local newsletter. “But at a time when we’re in the middle of a pandemic, it’s not so harmless.”
AP video journalist Ted Shaffrey and photographer Frank Franklin contributed to this report.