Medieval-themed East Village restaurant Cloister Cafe is suing the New York State Liquor Authority in what appears to be the first instance of a restaurant retaliating against the SLA for suspending its liquor license over social-distancing violations during the pandemic.
Cloister Cafe was forced to shut down in early August after allegedly hosting secret “pandemic parties” on the premises for dozens of customers crowded in close quarters, the New York Post reports. The SLA investigated the premises following an extensive Gothamist report detailing the parties that were allegedly taking place at the restaurant, and a liquor license suspension was issued shortly after.
Now, Cloister Cafe is suing the SLA over how the proceedings played out. The restaurant alleges that the SLA primarily used the information in the Gothamist article — which relied in part on Instagram videos posted by Kristina Alaniesse, who has been taking to social media to call out illegal gatherings throughout the pandemic — to inform its investigation. According to the lawsuit, officials had no first-hand accounts of the raucous parties.
“The proceedings lack any form of procedural due process,” the lawsuit states.
The restaurant is demanding that the SLA lift Cloister Cafe’s liquor license suspension until a “fair and appropriate” hearing “that meets the requirements of the United States Constitution” takes place, according to the lawsuit, as well as compensation for revenue lost while the restaurant is shut down.
“While we do not comment on pending litigation, any claim that Cafe Cloister’s summary suspension was based on social media posts or media accounts is demonstrably false,” a spokesperson for the SLA said in a statement about the lawsuit. “Both the New York City Sheriff’s Office and investigators with the state’s multi-agency task force conducted an inspection of Cafe Cloister at approximately 12:30 a.m. on August 7th — more than an hour after New York City’s 11 p.m. curfew for outdoor dining — and documented a multitude of violations, each of which put New Yorkers’ health and safety in danger during a global pandemic.”
Over 100 NYC restaurants and bars have been targeted by the SLA for social-distancing violations during the pandemic, with the agency doling out hefty fines and liquor license suspensions to many spots. But the policing seems to vary from business to business: White Horse Tavern in the West Village was slapped with over 30 violations over a month-long period before its liquor license was yanked; others, like East Village bar Lucky’s, had its liquor license revoked after the SLA issued one warning.
Update, 4:26 p.m.: This story has been updated with comment from an SLA spokesperson.
Cloister Cafe’s lawsuit:
- Cloister Café suing NY liquor authority over COVID-related shutdown [New York Post]