New York venues have been closed since the start of the pandemic, but with restaurants and bars reopened throughout the state at different capacities, some had begun to take steps to host live events like socially-distanced concerts, sidewalk drag shows, and more. But this week, the State Liquor Authority (SLA) updated their website to clarify new guidelines that specify that restaurants and bars are prohibited from offering live music, ticketed events, and other forms of outdoor entertainment.
According to the SLA website, "only incidental music is permissible at this time. This means that advertised and/or ticketed shows are not permissible. Music should be incidental to the dining experience and not the draw itself." They also note, "All other forms of live entertainment, such as exotic dancing, comedy shows, karaoke etc., are not permissible currently regardless of phase."
They add that for places that have the right licenses for live "incidental" music, people cannot be standing and watching the performances as well, and "performers should be at least 12 feet from patrons."
Bill Crowley, a spokesperson for the SLA, told Gothamist that the guidance is technically not new, but that they wanted to make it more explicit because there has been an increase in places advertising live events in recent weeks.
"Live entertainment activities, including all ticketed events, have been prohibited since New York went on PAUSE in mid-March to stop the spread of coronavirus," he said. "Thanks to New Yorkers' hard work, we have achieved, and so far maintained, one of the lowest rates of infection in the country, but these high-risk gatherings would create exactly the situation we are trying to avoid, where people congregate, mingle, and create congestion at points of ingress and egress. This week, after seeing an increase in establishments advertising ticketed events, the SLA clarified language on its website and proactively emailed all bars and restaurants to ensure they were aware of the months-old restrictions. New Yorkers need to remember we are still fighting a global pandemic—and with dozens of states facing outbreaks, we must continue to take the threat of spreading COVID at mass gatherings seriously."
Yudai Kanayama, the restaurateur behind Chinatown’s newly opened Hokkaido restaurant Dr. Clark, told Eater that his establishment was visited by SLA agents who inspected the restaurant’s outdoor karaoke set-up. He then received an email from the SLA announcing the rules, with an additional note that specified “karaoke is not presently permitted for reasons of health and safety.”
“A lot of people made reservations for dinner and karaoke together,” Kanayama said. “We are now turning everyone down. It’s our first week without karaoke and we’re doing our best.” Kanayama's establishment had safety protocols like plexiglass at each table in place.
Julie Leone, co-owner of The 443 Social Club & Lounge in Syracuse, said this was a devastating blow to her newly-reopened establishment: “We put a lot of time, effort and money into reopening. We put in social distancing, we do temperature checks that many places don’t, we rearranged the seating. And we got open. And now this. It’s just incredibly frustrating," she told NY Upstate. "This effectively shuts me down again.”
Earlier this month, a group of over 100 independent music venues in NYC joined forces to form New York Independent Venue Association (NYIVA), which is working in affiliation with the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) to try to get politicians to vote for in favor of the Save Our Stages and Restart bills, which would provide financial relief for venues during this period when most are completely shut down. Without those federal funds, they estimate that 90% of indie venues will be forced to close permanently.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy and other locals held a press conference this week in front of Baby's All Right in Williamsburg in support of that effort.
According to an analysis by Gothamist, over 100 NYC establishments have had their liquor licenses suspended over the last month for violating the state's COVID-19 guidelines, with almost 50 percent of them getting suspensions because of indoor dining. Earlier this week, The NYC Hospitality Alliance was joined by several restaurant owners at a press conference to demand that Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo come up with a plan for the return of indoor dining—or else potentially face a lawsuit.
This morning, Mayor de Blasio reiterated on The Brian Lehrer Show that the city currently has no plans to bring back indoor dining in the city. "We're never saying it's impossible but we do not based on what we're seeing around the world," he said. "We do not have a plan for reopening indoor dining in the near term."