Bar restrictions rolled back in New York

Outside diners enjoy food and drink at the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery on March 22. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

New York is loosening several COVID-19 regulations on bars — setting end dates for a midnight curfew and a requirement that food must be purchased with alcohol. Some local bar owners reacted with a mix of excitement and ambivalence.

The food requirement with an alcoholic drink were lifted Wednesday, April 28. This is commonly referred to as “bar seating.” The midnight curfew, which also applied to restaurants, will be lifted May 17 for outdoor areas and May 31 for indoor areas.

“I think that everybody in the hospitality business is beyond excited that the food requirement is finally going to be dropped,” said Chris Ericson, co-owner of the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery and Big Slide Brewery, both in Lake Placid. “It’s nice that rational minds seem to be winning the day with this one.”

While he does not believe the governor’s executive order was based in sound science, he said compliance was easy for his two bars because they are full restaurants, too.

“It was much more of a burden for the places that didn’t have kitchens set up,” Ericson said.

He anticipates more customers because people will be able to have one or two beers without buying a meal.

“It 100% was keeping people from going to our bar and other bars, for sure,” Ericson said.

He knows this firsthand, he said. On a trip to Saratoga Springs, he went to a brewery for a drink before dinner and found the cheapest item on the menu was a $14 hummus plate.

“It was very good, but I had no desire to have that hummus plate because I was on my way to dinner,” Ericson said. “I had a $20 pint of beer, basically. … I certainly did not go back to that brewery, and I didn’t go anywhere else because I didn’t want to have to order more food.”

Ericson, who is also president of the New York State Brewers Association, said this rule had a ripple effect throughout the industry, with breweries selling fewer kegs to bars because fewer people were going out for drinks, to avoid also paying for food.

“Then my tap doesn’t get pulled as often, that keg doesn’t empty as quickly,” he said.

In Tupper Lake, Raquette River Brewery co-owner Mark Jessie said neither rule affected his operations much. His brewery closes at 9 p.m. anyway, and many people who go there go for both the beer and the food trucks that operate there.

Still, he said some people are just coming in for a drink, and enforcing the rule has been tedious.

“I think all of us in this business are happy that that’s being lifted, for sure,” Jessie said. “It might have been a deterrent for some people, but the requirement was pretty minimal … so it wasn’t a big deal.”

He said it likely affected people visiting more than one bar in a night. He said when he goes out he does not want to eat at every place he goes.

Bruce Thomsen, who owns the Rusty Nail in Saranac Lake, said the curfew lifting may bring out more people who for months have gone straight home from work when they used to stop by a bar. There are pros and cons, he said, adding that the curfew lifting will get more people running around at night who probably shouldn’t be out because they’ve got to go to work in the morning.

Thomsen said the food requirement being lifted will not change his business too much. He said when it was first put in place, people weren’t used to it, and it was strange to enforce it, but everyone’s adjusted to it now.

“They didn’t want to, but they did,” Thomsen said. “There’s not really much you can do about that.”

Though the Rusty Nail does not have a kitchen like other establishments, he said he serves hot dogs and other food cooked with electricity instead of fire.

Michelle LeBlanc Blair, who owns P-2’s Irish Pub in Tupper Lake, said she’ll reopen her bar for the first time in nearly a year on May 5.

“It’s time,” Blair said. “It’s been a long time.”

She said she gets messages every day from people asking what’s going on with her plans.

Blair said reopening was complicated for months due to a small seating area in the bar, rises in local COVID case numbers and personal reasons.

Blair said she would have reopened even with these restrictions — the pub already has a menu — but operating without them will be easier and she’ll likely have more customers.

“The lightening up of COVID restrictions and the expansion of my patio are allowing me to do this,” she said.

She has made her outdoor seating area larger and will build an awning over it for use in the rain. She’s also planning to build a band shell out there for live music. She loves live music and is happy to see the scene expanding in Tupper Lake.

Blair has listed the bar as being for sale for a little while now, but without a buyer, she said she’s “diving in” and putting an investment into the property, and she said she’s glad to do it.

“I prayed about it because I wasn’t sure what to do,” Blair said. “If it didn’t sell, then I’m like, ‘OK, God, then there’s a reason, and you’ll make it work.’ So I made the decision to go all in.”