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Restaurants And Bars Forced To Make A Choice During Outbreak

Pint Sized Albany bar manager Ariana Miller on Monday
Lucas Willard
Pint Sized Albany bar manager Ariana Miller on Monday

Under direction from Governor Andrew Cuomo, bars and restaurants in New York state are now restricted to take-out and delivery service only, as a strategy to prevent the spread of COVID-19. On Monday, just hours after the governor’s announcement, businesses in Albany were trying to figure out what to do next.

The bars and restaurants on Albany’s Lark Street would normally be busy today for St. Patrick’s Day. But with the spread of the novel coronavirus and governments attempting to reduce density, you’ll have to get your corned beef and cabbage to go.

Jason Pierce is president at Savoy Taproom, where a staff meeting was being held Monday. The bar and restaurant voluntarily closed Sunday night.

“We felt that that was in the best interest for the health and safety of not only our staff but the community at large. Obviously there’s a pretty substantial impact on our staff. We’re working with them to make sure they have what they need moving forward. And then we’re trying to look at delivery and take-out options to continue to revenue here at the restaurant so that we can continue to support our staff,” said Pierce.

Restaurants and bars in New York have been given the green-light to provide take-out and delivery services for both food and beverages. Over the weekend, as social-distancing policies were enacted, some bars realized keeping people apart wouldn’t be sustainable.

August Rosa, who owns Pint Sized on Lark Street and another location in Saratoga Springs, says the bar served beers in plastic cups, with bartenders wearing disposable gloves.

“Pretty stressful, but as this kind of developed…it became apparent yesterday that this wasn’t a sustainable thing. It just didn’t make sense to put anyone at risk, even with the social distancing, eliminating chairs, spacing people out…it’s just too much of a challenge right now so we’re going to shift to just doing to-go business going forward,” said Rosa.  

Pint Sized will symbolically revert to its previous iteration – called Brew – and customers can pick up their beverages just as before. Servers who make a tipped wage will earn a higher wage in the interim.

But up the street, Post, which is co-owned by Rosa, is facing a bigger challenge.

Co-owners Craig Dutra and Nick Warchol were readying for a staff meeting Monday. Warchol said the small-plates and wine bar will have to shut down.

“They mandated that all bars and restaurants can’t be open for anything for take-out and delivery. And that’s just not our model.”

The co-owners had just met with their landlord, who told me he wouldn’t ask for a penny in rent during the public health emergency. Warchol knows his situation is not necessarily typical.

“There’s going to some people that are going to be on the hook for a lot of bills during this time and it will be really hard,” said Warchol.

Pierce at Savoy has some suggestions on how customers can support their favorite watering holes as the future remains uncertain and operating hours are limited.

“The two things that you can do that are most direct and easy, are number one, go online and buy gift cards. That money will directly help that company to support their employees. Order takeout food or delivery. That money will also help them to support their employees,” said Pierce.

On Tuesday morning during what has become daily press briefings on the coronavirus outbreak, Governor Andrew Cuomo addressed the pushback he has received on restricting operating hours for the hospitality industry.

“I know people are upset. I know business will be hurt by this. I don’t feel good about that. I feel bad about that because I know that we’re going to have to deal with that issue as soon as this immediate public health issue is over, but my judgement is do whatever is necessary to contain this virus. And then we will manage the consequences. The old expression, the buck stops on my desk? The buck stops on my desk.”

New York has been coordinating with neighboring states in instituting its restrictions in order to contain the spread of the virus.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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