Two Long Island restaurants within four miles of each other had their liquor licenses suspended on the same day after violations of COVID-19-related rules, according to a New York State Liquor Authority report.
SLA inspectors visited Spiro's Lounge & Restaurant in Rocky Point on Jan. 30, "following complaints of overcrowding, lack of social distancing and employees without face masks," the report read. The inspectors found 86 people inside, "nearly two times" the allowed capacity of 54 people. The inspectors also witnessed the owner and one kitchen employee "with masks pulled below their chins," according to the report.
On the same evening in Mount Sinai, inspectors said, they found 131 people inside the Italian restaurant Savino's Hideaway, where 72 diners are allowed under current regulations. Inspectors also noted "several patrons standing and drinking without face mask" in the bar, the report said.
The next day, the SLA board voted unanimously to suspend both liquor licenses. Licensees for both Spiro's and Savino's Hideaway have pleaded not guilty; they face fines of up to $10,000 per violation and possible permanent revocation of the liquor license, according to the SLA.
The state agency also called Savino's Hideaway "a repeat offender." During an earlier visit on Sept. 10, inspectors noted improper face mask use among employees, as well as unmasked patrons standing at the bar. That case is still pending, according to the SLA.
Both restaurants remain open for service.
Recently, the license for the Italian restaurant Robke's in Northport was suspended for two weeks after violations. Since the state imposed COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants and bars in March 2020, there have been 14 liquor license suspensions in Nassau and 21 in Suffolk, according to SLA public affairs director William Crowley. "The SLA Board has accepted offers of fines ranging from $4,000 to $50,000, depending on egregiousness of the conduct and the disciplinary history of the licensee," he said in a written statement.
In Rocky Point, Spiro's manager Jay Ozdemir said SLA inspectors have visited the restaurant often in recent months. The Jan. 30 visit came around 6:30 p.m. during a busy Saturday dinner service. "Obviously, we should've been more careful, but it's also hard to deal with when it's cold outside," Ozdemir said, with customers not wanting to wait outdoors for tables. The 10 p.m. curfew had created conditions for a crush earlier in the dinner service, he added.
The SLA is "only doing their jobs … but on our end we think there should be a warning for your first offense. It's a little harsh," Ozdemir said. He expects to add more staff near the doors to handle the crowd.
At Savino's Hideaway, bookkeeper Liliana Maloney said the restaurant had been slow for almost all of January, until that Saturday night. "It was the first time in a month when people were waiting in the bar area," she said, "It just so happens it was Restaurant Week, and we were over the limit."
Maloney said the restaurant had months ago made COVID-19-era adjustments to the dining rooms, "but we'll have somebody just counting people, and we'll have to tell everybody to wait in their cars," she said, adding that the restaurant's owners were working toward reinstatement of the license. "We hope to have this straightened out by next week."