New York's restaurants and bars , struggling to stay afloat with skeleton staffs and reduced to takeout, delivery and outdoor dining, suffered another blow on Thursday when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo placed new limits on their ability to serve alcohol.
The most significant restriction bans the sale of alcohol to customers who do not also buy food. In normal times, snacks like popcorn and pretzels would meet that requirement, but in the current environment they do not, Mr. Cuomo said in an interview after the morning news briefing where he announced the crackdown.
Bars and restaurants offering outdoor dining must serve something closer to a meal with any alcohol, Mr. Cuomo said in the interview. A proprietor serving a bag of potato chips with a couple of beers would be in violation, he said.
"We said outdoor dining," he said. "We didn't say outdoor bars."
Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, a trade group, predicted that the rule would create public safety problems.
"Prohibiting people seated at a table from having a beer on a hot summer day unless they order food is counterproductive," Mr. Rigie said. "People will simply gravitate to stoops, streets and parks with open containers, creating less safe conditions elsewhere."
The rule already applied to to-go alcohol orders. But it was unclear how strictly bars and restaurants, desperate to offset crushing financial losses, were abiding by it, or how seriously it was being enforced.
In a related move, Mr. Cuomo said there would be increased scrutiny of an existing rule that had been widely flouted: Patrons must have seats. No standing and lingering with drink in hand will be allowed.
"No food? Then no alcohol," Mr. Cuomo said at the news briefing.
The governor said at the briefing that the moves, which apply statewide and go into effect Friday, were meant to enforce social distancing and the wearing of face coverings and to avoid a second coronavirus wave in what was the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States earlier this year.
He expressed alarm about scenes, captured in photos and videos that were shared widely on social media, of large groups gathered in the East Village and Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan and areas of Brooklyn and Queens with little apparent regard for maintaining social distance.
"It's dangerous. It's selfish. It's unacceptable. It's also illegal, "Mr. Cuomo said at the news briefing.
"The concept here was bars and restaurants would be allowed to do outdoor dining," he said, adding, "You go with several people, you sit at a table and you have a meal. That would limit the exposure to the people at that table and then the tables are socially distanced."
Instead, the governor said, "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 and individual tables, and that's what we're seeing."
Since restaurants and bars in New York City were allowed to open for outdoor service on June 22, throngs of people who had largely been stuck at home for months filled the streets of neighborhoods heavy with bars and restaurants to drink and socialize.
State Liquor Authority investigators will enforce the rules and local authorities are expected to do the same, Mr. Cuomo said in the interview. Any establishment that receives three violations will be shut down, and particularly egregious violations could result in the immediate loss of a liquor license or closing before a third violation.
The governor said he expected the explicit threat to pull liquor licenses to motivate bars and restaurants to comply with the rules and safeguard the public's health.
For the food service industry — a sector that is vital to New York City's identity in myriad ways and has seen 189,000 workers laid off or furloughed in March and April — the governor's announcement was the second major setback in recent weeks.
Restaurants and bars had been poised to reopen for indoor dining last week at reduced capacity and with other restrictions as the city moved toward the fourth phase of its reopening process.
But on July 1, Mayor Bill de Blasio, in consultation with Mr. Cuomo, halted the return of indoor dining indefinitely as the number of virus cases surged in states that had moved more quickly to allow it.
Mr. Rigie of the hospitality alliance said the governor was putting too much of the onus for enforcing social-distancing and other public health rules on bars and restaurant owners and employees.
"Businesses need to be responsible for the activity on their property," he said. "But staff certainly can't be deputized to police the streets."
At Fitzgerald's Pub on Third Avenue in Manhattan's Kips Bay neighborhood, the announcement made Denis Fitzgerald, the owner, think of one of his regulars: a man in his 70s who stops by each night after dinner to sit and have two beers.
"If the new regulations are as they seem," Mr. Fitzgerald said, "that means we can't serve him."
Fitzgerald's does offer the kind of food that would qualify under Mr. Cuomo's rules: pub staples like shepherd's pie and fish and chips served at improvised street seating.
"It's like bars don't exist," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "Everything is dining now."
The governor's announcement, he said, was just the latest in a series of shifting requirements. Emails with instructions from different state agencies arrive in the middle of the night — although none yet about the rules announced on Thursday — and the possibility of indoor dining remains far from certain.
"We hired six people back in preparation for indoor dining," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "Two days later we were told 'no indoor dining.'"
More than anything, he said, he wanted clarity and consistency from elected officials and regulators.
"We certainly did our part," he said. "We closed our business for four months."
In the East Village, bar customers were still enjoying drinking outside without food Thursday night.
Kemani Webster of Flatbush, Brooklyn, was having frozen cherry margaritas with two other people at 2A on Avenue A. The only sign of food was an open carton of packaged peanuts.
"I'm going to have to cook and make drinks myself," Mr. Webster, 23, joked when told of the no-alcohol-without-food rule.
Bar owners took the new developments harder.
"It's extremely frustrating," Leroy Lloyd said outside his First Avenue bar, the Hard Swallow, which reopened last month and hopes to celebrate its second birthday in September. Three newly acquired round-top tables with shade umbrellas and two folding chairs apiece were arranged outside.
"We got these seats that cost us money we can't afford," Mr. Lloyd said. Two men sat having drinks. A chalkboard behind them advertised hot dogs as well as liquor.
At Juke Bar on Second Avenue, Conor Kohlbrenner, the manager, was setting up chairs out front at 4 p.m. The basement-level cocktail bar revived its long-closed kitchen when the lockdown eased in a bid to attract more customers.
"Hopefully we can adapt," Mr. Kohlbrenner, 25, said, before citing what is a persistent fear for many New Yorkers. "As long as there's no second wave, we'll be all right."
Luis Ferré-Sadurní, Matthew Haag and Sean Piccoli contributed reporting.
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