Hundreds of protesters gathered outside a Staten Island bar a day after it was shut down and one of its owners arrested for publicly declaring itself an "autonomous zone" and not adhering to New York's COVID-19 measures.
The crowd stopped traffic outside Mac's Public House in Grant City Wednesday night, demanding it be allowed to open for business. Throughout the day and well into the night, sheriff's deputies stood outside the entrance of the bar, which was shut down after it insisted on continuing indoor food and drink service — leading to too many cease and desist orders and fines to keep track. An order to vacate was placed on the door Tuesday night.
But that didn't stop protesters from screaming in anger at not only the officers outside, but also Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for implementing the restrictions that prevented the bar from operating inside service. The bar is located in an orange zone, which bans all indoor dining.
Bar co-owner Keith McAlarney has kept his bar open the past two weeks that the orange zone has been in place on this section of Staten Island. He said he needed to stay open because it meant he'd be able to pay the bills and feed his family, but now is calling on other small businesses to join in his fight.
"It's time for all small businesses and every citizen, it's time to stand up and open up," McAlarney said. "All small businesses stand up. The citizens are there, they want you open. We need to make a living."
On Tuesday night, the bar's general manager, Danny Presti, was arrested. The 34-year-old was uncooperative and charged with obstruction of governmental administration in addition to the charges stemming from unauthorized food and beverage service, the sheriff said. He has since been released.
"Every single thing we can do to keep people safe we have. Meanwhile, if we take a ride over to Lowe's and Home Depot now, there's 500 people walking around and touching everything," Presti said. "Besides having hand sanitizer when you walk in, what's the safety procedure?"
Health officials say the difference is the mask — it can be worn in stores and other locations, but people can't be wearing one while eating and drinking. The protesters, some of whom were not sporting masks, say they want to take the risk.
Mac's had declared itself an "autonomous zone" — a nod to protesters who claimed control over a Seattle neighborhood in June — in which it was not abiding by the state's or city's rules concerning COVID shutdowns of indoor service. The bar was caught violating the orders after after a sting in which plainclothes officers went inside and ordered food and beverages, the city sheriff’s office said.
New York City Sheriffs said deputies on Tuesday surveilled the bar after receiving complaints of indoor dining past the 10 p.m. curfew. Deputy sheriffs witnessed 14 people inside the bar, many of whom were eating and drinking alcoholic drinks, according to the sheriff's office. Plainclothes officers who were seated at a table ordered food and drinks "in exchange for a mandatory 'donation' of $40," authorities said.
Uniformed deputies went in then and issued tickets for state and city violations, Sheriff Joseph Fucito said in a release.
Lou Gelormino, an attorney who represents the tavern in its battle against the state and city, was there during the bust and was also ticketed. Gelormino told the Staten Island Advance that Presti was arrested because he didn’t want to leave his business "and at that point … they considered it trespassing."
Another attorney for the bar, Mark Fonte, told the newspaper, "These sheriff’s officers are ‘wannabe’ cops. This is what happens when little people get a little power."
State Sen. Andrew Lanza, a Republican, sought to calm the dozens of tavern supporters who jeered as Presti was led away in handcuffs. Lanza said the bar owner should not have been arrested but added, “We respect law enforcement on Staten Island like no other borough.”
The bar's decision to continue their food and drink service inside resulted in a cease and desist order and a $1,000 fine each day. The bar's liquor license has also been suspended.
"If you're gonna let the big companies do it, you should have found a way to let small businesses be able to do it too," McAlarney said, adding that he's not against the mask mandate or physical distancing but the government needs to help out struggling business owners.
McAlarney called the support that they've received "overwhelming," and had a message for those who think the bar is being reckless by taking the stand.
"If you feel, and you've done your research, and you believe that this is something that could end up causing someone in your family to get sick — they choose to stay home," Mcalarney said. "I'm not trying to trivialize anyone who has to go through this. Believe me, I would not do that. I am a very sympathetic person, I would give the shirt off my back to help anybody. But in America, everybody has a choice on how it is they end up wanting to live their lives."