Restaurateurs join Republican legislators calling for an end to dining and drinking restrictions

Legislative Gazette photo by Emily Mortensen

Assembly Republicans, backed by restaurant owners, are calling out Gov. Andrew Cuomo on his “arbitrary” mandates this week after he extended the bar and restaurant industry curfew from 11:00 p.m. to midnight.

While other businesses across the state have been allowed to reopen without a curfew, Cuomo has maintained a curfew for bars and restaurants, which has been gradually extended over the past four months. 

“The thousands of small business owners operating under these ridiculous constraints are fed up, and they deserve better than what they’re getting from Albany,” said Assembly Republican Leader Will Barclay. 

As vaccination eligibility is now open to all state residents above the age of 16, statewide COVID case numbers have still seen highs and lows throughout the first months of 2021. But Republican leaders believe the state should let up now that nearly eight million New Yorkers have at least one dose as of April 16.

The Assembly Republican’s release includes testimony from restaurant owners and advocates who have been struggling since the pandemic began. A statistic from the New York State Restaurant Association indicated that more than 8,000 restaurants in the state have closed from pandemic losses. 

The current state law, because of COVID, states that only people who are ordering and eating food can be served alcohol and that all service at bar tops must only be for seated patrons who are socially distanced by six feet or separated by physical barriers.

These restrictions are in addition to the nightly curfews.

According to the Governor’s Office, any establishment that receives three violations will be closed for business. Egregious violations can result in the immediate loss of a liquor license or closure before a third strike.

Legislative Gazette photo by Matthew Conradi

“We are short staffed, working harder, and losing money,” said Tess Collins, owner of McGeary’s Pub in Albany. “We get yelled at by customers all day long. I am constantly worried that someone will not have a mask on or do something else that will get us fined,” Collins added. “We have to call ‘last call’ on food orders at 10:15 p.m. I work all day and night, and have to kick sober, nice people out of the bar at 10:55 p.m.

“The food law and time restraints have caused me to bleed my loan money. The food law alone has put thousands of businesses out because they do not have kitchens,” Collins said. “I am worried about the future of this industry.”

Assemblyman Christopher Friend, R-Big Flats, the ranking Republican on the Committee on Economic Development, said the governor’s contact tracing data does not support the need to be so restrictive on restaurants and bars.

“The curfew has been a great imposition to these struggling businesses that are trying to recover from the pandemic shutdown,” Friend said. “These one-size-fits-all rules would have expired at the end of March. Unfortunately, the Legislature extended the governor’s powers indefinitely. People have antibodies and now we have vaccines. It is time for these restrictive rules to end.”

Last month, Assembly and Senate Republicans introduced joint resolutions to overturn Gov. Cuomo’s restaurant mandates they say have unnecessarily hurt the state’s restaurants and bars, however, to date, Assembly Republicans have yet to receive resolution numbers for either measure. 

Until, then, the resolutions are prevented from going through committee or advancing to the Assembly Chamber for a vote.

“We’re still facing restrictions that have nothing to do with public health,”  said Caren Paterniti owner of The Howling Rooster in Tonawanda. “Restrictions have been lifted for other businesses and industries, when is it our turn? We’ve waited long enough, and people should not have to fight this hard for the right to earn a living.”

Bay Shore Restaurant Committee member Mike McElwee echoes Paterniti saying “The ridiculous curfews enacted in November forced us to turn away many guests who otherwise could have been served later in the evening after our other patrons cleared out. The governor’s order is actually making our guests less safe.”

Earlier this week, Republican lawmakers penned a letter to Speaker Carl Heastie and colleagues formally requesting copies of the legally-required notices from the governor’s office and Commissioner of Health to the Legislature regarding the extension of these executive orders. 

McElwee added “Allowing pool halls, bowling alleys and casinos to operate without a curfew while we are forced to close early is just another blow to our industry that is already on the brink of disaster.”