A wild weekend of large crowds and minimal masks culminated in a crackdown on Steinway Street, with one bar removed from the Open Restaurants program for a week and its liquor license suspended.
“We saw some real troubling overcrowding in Astoria this weekend, we will not tolerate it. Let’s really be clear,” Mayor de Blasio said at his July 20 press briefing. “There’s one restaurant in Astoria that was a focal point for this overcrowding. They’ve been shut down. And no one wants to shut down bars or restaurants. But if they do not cooperate in our efforts to contain the coronavirus, they will be shut down.”
De Blasio pointed to Brik Astoria, located at 32-16 Steinway St., which had its liquor license suspended by the State Liquor Authority the following day, along with M.I.A., another bar about a mile away. The bars were accused of failure to maintain social distancing guidelines for their customers after videos circulated showing hundreds of partiers flooding the neighborhood without masks.
“We don’t want to shut down bars, but if we have to shut down a few of those, it is a hell of a lot better than seeing the coronavirus start to surge again in this city,” the mayor said.
But City Councilmember Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) said the “carnival” weekend was the result of weeks of growing block parties, which the city, tasked with enforcing social distancing, failed to nip in the bud.
“Enough is enough,” he said in a statement. “Our streets have descended into pure mayhem, the threat of COVID-19 spreading is dangerously high, and Astoria residents are rightfully furious at the relentless noise that goes into the early hours of the morning. We are in complete chaos and one drunken fight away from a powder keg exploding.”
Constantinides noted that the businesses’ attempts to make up for lost revenue resulting from the pandemic is no excuse for the neighborhood’s transformation into a “giant resort bar,” and threatened to shut down bars and restaurants that continue to disregard social distancing and health directives.
“Every business that flouts the rules has to be shut down — period,” said the councilmember. “To those out there partying until sunrise, stop. COVID-19 is still a serious threat, and just because you’re young doesn’t mean you’re invincible. Your arrogance can and will kill anyone you come into contact with.”
Ramon Bauillo, the manager of restaurant and bar El Basurero, which lies directly across the street from Brik Astoria, said that the chaos should not be blamed on the businesses because the partiers came to Steinway Street equipped with their own booze.
“We tried to handle and take care of our customers, but we can’t do nothing to the people on the street,” said Bauillo. “We’re not the police. We are just the workers doing something for the community ... We tried to keep things nice and clean but [the partiers] do whatever they want ... We could control the customers. We could not control the people in the street.”
Bauillo said that he and his neighboring restaurants were ordered to shut operations down at 10:30 p.m. after the weekend parties lasted until 3 in the morning.
On Sunday morning, Steinway Street was left covered with trash, and the businesses pitched in to clean up the space that now doubles as their outdoor seating areas. Bauillo agreed with Constantinides that the music was too loud and the partiers too rambunctious, but that businesses could only do so much.
“They buy the alcohol in the supermarket and come here and what can we do about that? Nothing. Only the police can,” he said. “The government makes the businesses pay for the problem and it’s not fair.”
De Blasio did mention that enforcement efforts by the Sheriff’s Office and, when needed, the NYPD in Astoria and other areas displaying similar disregard for social distancing will be ramped up, an initiative Bauillo and other Steinway Street businesses willingly accepted.
“We want all our restaurants to succeed and we want everyone to be safe. Regulations need to the followed in order to achieve both those ends,” said Marie Torniali, executive director of the Steinway Astoria Partnership. “The majority of our establishments have complied and are providing a safe and enjoyable dining experience for their customers.”