Diners at Robke's in Northport pre-pandemic in December 2019.

Diners at Robke's in Northport pre-pandemic in December 2019. Credit: Daniel Brennan

Robke’s of Northport, the Italian restaurant whose fandom approaches that of the star athletes that dine there, has run afoul of the New York State Liquor Authority. As of Jan. 24, its liquor license was suspended after investigators found the business "in flagrant violation of COVID-related regulations that have been in place for months."

According to a report by the liquor authority, an inspector witnessed numerous breaches of the state’s safety regulations on Saturday, Jan. 23, including tables spaced less than 6 feet apart, an area near the bar "packed" with patrons who were not social distancing and food being served after the state-imposed 10 p.m. curfew. The inspector also noted 28 people dining at a table in a tent adjacent to the restaurant.

In suspending the license, the liquor authority board noted that Robke’s is "a repeat offender," with charges issued on Dec. 9 for "improperly spaced tables, patrons standing, drinking and ignoring social distancing, and bartenders and kitchen staff without face masks."

The suspension is now in the hands of Robke’s lawyers who will negotiate a settlement with the liquor authority. The maximum penalty is a fine up to $10,000 per violation.

Louis Selvaggio Jr., who owns the restaurant with his father, Louis Selvaggio, conceded that things got out of control the night the inspector visited.

"We are very busy on Saturday nights," he said Tuesday. "It’s the only night of the week where this 10 o’clock thing affects us. Other nights of the week, the staff could leave by 9. On Saturday nights, there's a bottleneck."

Selvaggio, more commonly known as "Louie Sel," explained that because the restaurant does not take reservations and is known for being crowded, patrons who show up late are actually trying to "do us a favor, trying to even out the flow," but when they are seated after 9, it’s almost impossible for the kitchen to finish serving their meals.

On the Saturday night in question, he continued, "it was freezing cold. There was a massive line of people standing in the parking lot. I have a hard time telling a 75-year-old guy who’s been a customer for 20 years that he has to wait outside."

The liquor authority report said investigators attempted to inspect the kitchen, but that an employee blocked the entrance; nevertheless they photographed one member of the kitchen staff without a face mask. Selvaggio said the inspector walked behind the bar with her camera to get into the kitchen without identifying herself and was intercepted by a staffer who asked for identification.

Not serving liquor will be a blow to the restaurant’s bottom line. "Drinks are where the margins are," Selvaggio said. "I can sell $14.95 lunches all day, but when they order two cosmos and a glass of wine, now I make money."

In the meantime, Selvaggio is conducting business as usual. "We’ve put our aprons on, gone back to work," he said. "If you want to come and eat, come and eat. We are open and the water’s boiling."

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