Erika Rothschild and Alysha Webb enjoy an evening out in Greenwich Village
Andrew H Walker/Shutterstock
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Wednesday that a pair of pandemic restrictions affecting New York restaurants and bars will end next month: the midnight food and beverage curfew will be lifted for outdoor dining beginning May 17th and for indoor dining beginning May 31st. In addition, seating at bars will be allowed again in NYC starting May 3rd.
Cuomo said in a statement that this was a result of New Yorkers getting vaccinated and complying with pandemic guidelines.
"Everything we've been doing is working—all the arrows are pointing in the right direction and now we're able to increase economic activity even more," Cuomo said. "Lifting these restrictions for restaurants, bars and catering companies will allow these businesses that have been devastated by the pandemic to begin to recover as we return to a new normal in a post-pandemic world."
Cuomo also announced that the 1 a.m. curfew for catered events (where attendees have provided proof of vaccination status or a recent negative COVID-19 test result) will be lifted beginning May 17th, with the curfew for all catered events set to be lifted May 31st. Catered events will also be able to resume at residences beginning May 3rd.
“New York City’s restaurants and bars have been financially devastated by COVID-19 restrictions and it’s great news that the state will finally undo the barstool ban and lift the arbitrary midnight curfew," said Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. "These outdated policies made it too difficult for too many small business owners and workers to support themselves and their families, and were a grave inconvenience to customers. Lifting these restrictions is an important step forward for restaurants and bars across New York City, and we will continue working with the state to safely and completely reopen our hospitality industry, bring back jobs and sustain vital small businesses.”
That isn't all: another Cuomo executive order that required restaurants and bars to serve food with alcohol is expected to be repealed by the NY State Senate and Assembly on Wednesday.
“Good riddance. Governor Cuomo never explained why this rule made New Yorkers any safer from COVID-19, and it’s great to see the Legislature easing the burden on struggling bars and restaurants. Face masks and social distancing are what stop the spread – not chips and salsa,” said Mitch Schwartz, spokesperson for the mayor's office.
The rule first came up in March 2020, when restaurants and bars were only allowed to offered delivery and takeout, and were limited to selling alcoholic beverages to go. Licensed establishments could only sell adult beverages if the sale was "accompanied by the purchase of food."
The rule frustrated many in the industry, according to Chris O'Leary, who has been running Brew York, a guide to NYC's beer culture and events, since 2008. He said that there was confusion about the rule among both bar owners and the State Liquor Authority, and that the rule seemed to unfairly punish bar owners at a time when they could least afford to make modifications.
"Even in July, I struggled to find a scientific reason why the mere presence of food at a table would prevent the spread of COVID," he told Gothamist. "If the goal was to prevent parties from standing and mingling, which was purported to be the justification for this rule, why not just aggressively enforce social distancing?"
"This rule punished responsible, moderate drinking, but worse, it punished bar and brewery owners who did not have the apparatus to serve food," O'Leary added.
Places that normally didn't serve food were forced to come up with inventive ways to comply with the rule. O'Leary documented that trend with an ongoing Twitter thread dedicated to #CuomoSnacks, including hot dogs, bags of chips, styrofoam popcorn and individual servings of Cheerios.
"The weirdest things I encountered was three cherries for 25 cents at Naked Dove Brewing in Canandaigua," O'Leary said. "Rusty Nickel Brewing near Buffalo offered a bag of Cheerios for a dollar. And Standings, a sports bar on East 7th St, had their famous cheese sandwich — a Kraft single between two slices of white bread — for two bucks."
In July, after restaurants and bars were allowed to reopen for outdoor dining, Cuomo and the State Liquor Authority kept the rule in place. "If you're not eating a meal and you're just drinking, then it's just an outdoor bar and people are mingling and they're not isolated at individual tables," Cuomo said at the time, justifying why it was okay to sit for a meal at an outdoor restaurant with tables that are properly socially distanced but not just drink.
After today's vote, food sales will no longer be required for alcoholic beverage sales in bars and restaurants, for on-premise or off-premise consumption.
"This is good news because it’s way past time this senseless food rule is repealed," Rigie added.