Some bars and restaurants in New York City have begun segregating diners, creating separate seating areas where vaccinated customers can mingle while the unvaccinated have to remain outdoors or behind plexiglass.
It came after bars were last month given the go-ahead by New York State to operate at 100% capacity and remain open until 4am.
But while state law now says that vaccinated parties in bars and restaurants do not have to be socially distanced, bars must allow six feet of distancing or appropriate physical barriers for unvaccinated customers.
It means that bars are under pressure to demand proof of vaccination to maximize the number of people who can fit inside.
And while the new policies might sound good in theory, they don’t make much sense from a legal, and, in some cases, a health standpoint.
State laws do not require proof of vaccination at ‘indoor catered events of 250 or less’, meaning customers could just claim to be vaccinated to get better seats.
And even if restaurants and bars could could enforce policies based on who is and who isn’t vaccinated, health experts say being indoors, segregated or not, presents the same risk of infection, particularly for the unvaccinated crowd.
The policies seem to be taking different forms at different bars, with some reserving their indoor seating exclusively for the vaccinated in a bid to once again take full advantage of their indoor space.
Llama San in Manhattan’s West Village, for example, is asking that in order to seat its dining room close indoor capacity, diners are asked to provide proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test.
‘We believe this will help bring peace of mind to you and your guests to fully enjoy your dining experience with us,’ the restaurant says on its Resy. ‘Similarly, the entirety of our staff has been vaccinated or will provide frequent negative covid tests.’
West Village Japanese Peruvian restaurant Llama San announced that on May 19 it was fully relaxing social distancing restrictions in its indoor dining room, but with the caveat that patrons show proof of vaccination. It’s part of a trend of NYC restaurants attempting to create separate spaces for vaccinated and unvaccinated patrons. Diners can be seen at the restaurant on May 21
The restaurant’s outdoor area is still available to unvaccinated patrons
Others are following suit, with Jolene, also in the West Village, asking for an Excelsior Pass or a vaccination card in order to secure an indoor reservation, and it notes on its Resy that its staff are vaccinated and working without masks.
For the unvaccinated, the spot’s outdoor reservations are still available.
Diner in Brooklyn is doing the same, with its indoor space reserved exclusively for the vaccinated, while the unvaccinated can still dine outdoors, according to its Resy page.
Marie’s Crisis Cafe, a Broadway showtunes ‘Sing-along’ piano bar in the West Village says that it has opened its space to vaccinated customers to allow customers and workers alike to safely remove their masks.
Jolene, also in the West Village, is following a similar configuration and is asking indoor customers provide proof of vaccination
Venues are asking for a variety of proof, including digital and physical, but state law prohibits they require it for entry
Diner in Brooklyn has also reserved its indoor dining room for the vaccinated
Other venues are opting to take a different route, and are creating separate seating areas with relaxed social distancing and mask restrictions for the vaccinated, while unvaccinated patrons must still contend with masks and plexiglass barriers.
Carroll Place, an Italian-American wine bar in the West Village plans to do just that starting Wednesday by reserving its main floor for vaccinated guests.
‘I started thinking, once everything starts reopening, people want a sense of normalcy,’ restaurateur AJ Bontempo told the New York Post.
‘When you first walk in, I’d like there to be an energy, without all that plexiglass, and to reward people for being vaccinated — to give them that experience.’
Carroll Place is opting to have segregated indoor spaces for the vaccinated and unvaccinated
The majority of the Italian-American eatery’s first floor is reserved for the unvaccinated, while the unvaccinated must remain upstairs in socially distanced seating
A an example of a New York Excelsior Pass digital vaccine passport. While a number of venues are asking for proof of vaccination, only places with a capacity of 250 people or above are allowed to require it for entry
Ninety nine of the venue’s first-floor seats will be reserved for the vaccinated, with 50 seats upstairs set aside with distanced tables and barriers for the unvaccinated.
‘It’s based on an honor system,’ Bontempo told the outlet, noting the state regulations.
But with the indoor segregated spaces at least, health experts say having restrictions for some and not for others makes little sense.
Epidemiologist Stephanie Silvera said that regardless of barriers and social distancing, unvaccinated people are still susceptible to contracting Covid-19 in close spaces, the Post reported, and she recommended they keep their masks on indoors when not eating.
While outdoor dining might remain, most of New York’s social distancing restrictions will end once 70% of its adult population is vaccinated
Other venues, such as Caroline’s comedy club in Times Square are following a similar track to Carroll Place.
Owner Caroline Hirsch said she first asks for an Excelsior pass. ‘If they don’t have it, we ask for their vaccination card, and if they don’t have that, we go by the honor system,’ she told the Post.
The vaccinated, she said, get the seats closest to the performer.
In the future, Hirsch said she would like to have shows exclusive to vaccinated patrons, with relaxed restrictions throughout the venue.
The segregation measures for most bars may only be a stop-gap measure for many restaurants to get around state regulations.
Governor Cuomo announced this week that that most of the state’s remaining COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted once 70% of New Yorkers aged 18 or older have received the first dose of their COVID-19 vaccination.
So far, nearly 69 percent of New Yorkers over 18 have received at least one shot, according to state figures.