The New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) summarily suspended the liquor licenses of two Queens restaurants, Don Kew Inc, doing business as “The Hangar Bar & Grill” at 11911-11913 Metropolitan Avenue and Makers Bar & Grill Inc, doing business “Hangar Astoria Bar & Grill” at 24-43 Steinway Street. Both businesses, who share a common ownership. Both restaurants were found operating in violation of the Governor’s Executive Order, which requires bars and restaurants to cease on-premises service of food and alcoholic beverages to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
The New York City Police Department (NYPD) reports that both locations require constant police attention, with police receiving eighty 311 complaints against the Metropolitan Avenue location and twenty-three for the Steinway Street location between March 20th to May 9th. Despite numerous warnings and summonses, both locations continue to abuse temporary “to go” privileges and SLA guidelines by selling alcohol in unsealed containers without food and allowing patrons to congregate in mass both inside and around the licensed premises. They attracted customers by offering drinks with the purchase of just chips, leading to long waiting lines and clusters of drinking patrons immediately outside the premises, many without masks and without social distancing.
The Hangar Bar & Grill, Metropolitan Avenue:
- On April 10th, NYPD officers visited the premises to issue a warning based on chronic 311 complaints;
- On April 11th, based on a complaint forwarded by the SLA regarding ten patrons inside the premises, the NYPD visited the location finding four patrons standing inside by the bar. The licensee was instructed to disperse the crowd and issued a warning;
- On April 17th, NYPD officers observed fifteen individuals waiting in line in front of the premises, ignoring social distancing guidelines and without face coverings;
- On May 3rd, NYPD officers responding to complaints of large crowds gathering around the premises found over fifty patrons both inside and outside, with at least five individuals consuming alcohol on the sidewalk. A summons was issued for Disorderly Premises;
- On May 18th, the New York City Sheriffs’ office warned the licensee regarding consumption on the premises and social distancing guidelines following complaints forwarded by the SLA of large crowds gathering outside on May 16th and 17th;
- On May 19th, during a joint operation with the NYPD and SLA, an undercover SLA Investigator was provided an unsealed alcoholic beverage with the purchase of a bag of chips, a clear violation of SLA guidelines, and was permitted to consume the drink inside the bar. The investigator also observed patrons consuming directly outside the premises. The NYPD issued a summons for violating the Mayor’s Executive Order.
Hangar Astoria Bar & Grill, Steinway Street:
- On April 25th, NYPD officers responding to numerous complaints observed several patrons congregating and consuming alcohol both inside and on the sidewalk directly in front of the licensed premises. The NYPD issued a summons for violating the Mayor’s Executive Order;
- On May 15th, NYPD officers responding to complaints of disorderly patrons found a group of eighty to ninety persons drinking and ignoring social distancing guidelines both inside and directly outside the premises. The licensee agreed to close the business and hire additional staff to control the crowds;
- On May 21st, an SLA Investigator conducting surveillance of the premises witnessed numerous patrons drinking both inside and in front of the premises. The investigator took photographs of patrons purchasing alcohol with just a bag of chips, a violation of SLA guidelines that actual food be served with alcoholic beverages sold to go.
On May 27, 2020, the SLA charged both bars with several violations including failure to comply with Governor Cuomo’s Executive Orders concerning COVID-19 restaurant restrictions, failure to supervise the licensed premises and for becoming a focal point for police attention.
“Despite numerous warnings and clear guidance from the SLA, it’s obvious this licensee is simply exploiting the new ‘to go’ privileges and endangering the lives of his employees, police and his community in the process,” said SLA Chairman Vincent Bradley. “The SLA will not hesitate to take immediate actions against licensees who allow patrons to congregate and linger, creating a dangerous environment the Governor’s Executive Orders were implemented to avoid.”
The emergency suspensions were ordered by Chairman Vincent Bradley, Commissioner Lily Fan, and Commissioner Greeley Ford at a special meeting of the Full Board, conducted by a digitally recorded video conference call under social distancing guidelines, on May 29, 2020. The Full Board found that it could have no confidence that the licensee would follow the EO going forward.
The State Administrative Procedure Act authorizes a State agency to summarily suspend a license when the agency finds that public health, safety, or welfare requires emergency action. When the SLA summarily suspends a license, it also serves a Notice of Pleading alleging one or more disciplinary violations. In invoking a summary suspension, the SLA has deemed the violation to be sufficiently serious upon initial review to warrant an immediate suspension. The SLA’s decision to summarily suspend a license is not a final determination on the merits of the case. The licensee is entitled to an expedited administrative law hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. An order of summary suspension remains in effect until such time as it is modified by the SLA or a reviewing Court.