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New Yorkers Clustered Outside Restaurants and Bars Over a Warm Weekend

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Some are taking the social distancing violations even further and participating in underground dining events

Groups of people gather outside of a bar’s takeout window on a street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Groups of people linger on a street in Greenpoint
Gary He/Eater
Erika Adams is the editor of Eater Boston.

As nonstop sunny and warm weather blanketed the city this weekend, diners congregated at their favorite bars and restaurants that were open for takeout and delivery on Saturday and Sunday — in some cases, leading to crowding on streets and sidewalks that appeared to defy the city’s social distancing orders.

NBC New York reported “an abundance of social distancing violators” in front of bars and restaurants on the Upper East Side. Eater saw similar scenes in Greenpoint, Williamsburg, the East Village, the Lower East Side, and the West Village, where at least one restaurant set out tables and chairs on the sidewalk for customers.

People sitting on crates and standing in the street outside the Lot Radio in Greenpoint
Outside independent radio station the Lot Radio in Greenpoint
Gary He/Eater

At a Monday press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio emphasized that people should not be staying on sidewalks with their takeout drinks. Police officers will be asking groups outside businesses to disperse, de Blasio added, and anybody who refuses may be given a summons. “Get your drink. Go home,” the mayor said. “Don’t allow gatherings to occur. It’s not safe.”

Selling cocktail and wine for takeout has been a critical strategy for restaurants and bars during the dining room closure, one intended for people to be drinking at home. But New York’s restaurants and bars are unlikely to fully reopen to dine-in customers for months, and as the stay-at-home order continues, more people are spending time outside and, in some cases, drinking there.

At upscale West Village spot Extra Virgin, diners crowded in the street outside of the restaurant while waiting for their orders. A manager who worked on Sunday said that staff told customers to be mindful of neighbors on the street and not to linger, but “once people aren’t on our property, they technically are not within our jurisdiction.”

NYC has been shutting down streets to allow for more outdoor space while still maintaining six feet of distance. The city has also discussed outdoor dining options for restaurants and bars for the summer — although those plans are still theoretical for now.

People crowding on the street outside a restaurant in the West Village
Upscale West Village spot Extra Virgin
Robert Sietsema/Eater

Though outdoor groups worried some neighborhoods over the weekend, violations of social distancing rules are even more blatant at some restaurants where underground dining rooms are in operation, according to a report in email newsletter Air Mail. Groups of 20 to 40 people have been gathering in “basement venues” in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn, openly defying the city’s mandate banning dine-in operations at restaurants and bars while COVID-19 still spreads throughout the city’s communities.

Lower East Side nightclub Omar’s La Boite has also reportedly held parties during the shutdown, though ownership has denied the allegations.

The Air Mail reporter described a scene from a friend who had observed underground parties at an East Village restaurant: “They host in the basement and tell the regulars — 30 or 40 people, friends of friends,” according to the report. “They just switch nights every week. If the police come, everyone just says they’re there to pick up their to-go order.”

The NYPD was previously ticketing people for violating social distancing rules like venturing outside without wearing face coverings, but de Blasio said on Friday that the police would stop handing out tickets for those general infractions, according to a NY Daily News report. The practice was widely criticized as videos surfaced documenting violent social distancing arrests, and the vast majority of those targeted for violating the social distancing rules were people of color.

On Monday, the mayor warned that the city would take more drastic action against restaurants and bars that allowed for dining on the premises during the shutdown. “We’re going to crack down on that immediately,” de Blasio said.

Small groups of diners sitting outside French restaurant A.O.C. in the West Village
Diners sitting outside French restaurant A.O.C. in the West Village
Robert Sietsema/Eater
Diners line up to get to-go drinks from East Village bar Pardon My French
Customers line up outside Pardon My French in the East Village
Robert Sietsema/Eater

Eater could not immediately reach A.O.C. and Pardon My French for further comment on how the restaurants handled social distancing guidelines this weekend.