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East Village Bar Wants Cuomo to Roll Back ‘Unfair’ Food Mandate

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The owner is circulating a petition in favor of the repeal with over 2,000 signatures

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during the daily media briefing at the Office of the Governor of the State of New York on July 23, 2020 in New York City.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a recent press conference
Photo by Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

One East Village bar owner is so fed up with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent ruling that bars have to serve a substantial amount of food with alcohol that she launched a petition last week to demand for Cuomo to reverse the order. As of Monday afternoon, the petition had received over 2,100 signatures.

The owner, Abby Ehmann of neighborhood dive bar Lucky in the East Village, started the petition because she felt “obligated to say something,” Ehmann tells Eater. “It’s an unfair law.” The New York Daily News first reported on Ehmann’s petition.

In her petition, Ehmann advocates for a repeal of the new food order, arguing that it’s “classist,” as it forces her customers to spend substantially more money than normal to get a beer. She also says that it’s not clear what bearing the rule has on the public’s health safety related to the pandemic. “Forcing [customers] to order food has nothing to do with safety, nothing to do with health — just nothing,” Ehmann says.

Instead, Ehmann is advocating for a new “seating not eating” rule that would stipulate that customers must be able to sit down while at the bar, potentially preventing large groups from standing around and openly drinking.

“Rather than legislating what customers must order, I believe it would be safer and smarter to require customers be seated while consuming whatever they want,” Ehmann writes in the petition. “If no standing is allowed, the possibility of overcrowding is eliminated.”

The State Liquor Authority has a longstanding rule that bars must serve food on their premises, but Cuomo doubled down and expanded the mandate in July. Bars participating in outdoor dining must offer customers a “sit-down experience,” according to the governor’s office, complete with full dishes of food — not “Cuomo chips” or other small bar snacks.

Cuomo instituted a three-strike rule for restaurants and bars in light of the new mandates; after three warnings, the state can shut the establishment down for non-compliance. There hasn’t been any instances of an NYC restaurant or bar getting completely shut down yet, although dozens of places have temporarily lost their liquor licenses due to large amounts of crowding in close quarters and other social-distancing violations.

Ehmann herself has not complied with the new law since it was instated in mid-July. In the past, Ehmann received a $2,000 fine from the SLA for not offering food on the bar’s kitchen-less premises — a next-door sandwich shop was selling to Lucky’s customers, but that didn’t count — so Ehmann plugged in a microwave and started selling Hot Pockets. She’s sticking with that, she says, until she racks up multiple strikes and is forced to change her menu.

“We’re an industry that has been hit so hard,” Ehmann says. “Why make it even harder?”

Ehmann says she hasn’t heard from the governor’s office yet in response to the petition, or any other legislators that she addressed with the plea, including State Senator Brad Hoylman and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Cuomo and de Blasio — despite their pissing contest — neither of them have done enough to support small businesses,” Ehmann says.

Once the petition reaches 5,000 signatures, she says, her lawyer will start contacting the politicians.

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