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Extra hours for bars, restaurants draws mixed reviews

Joe Stelmach is pictured pouring a draft beer for a patron at Group Ther-Happy in Lakewood. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this week that bars and restaurants will have a new midnight curfew. Photo by Nikk Holland

Although restaurants and officials across the state have called for the lifting of curfew restrictions, local reactions to the new midnight curfew are mixed.

Gov. Cuomo announced Wednesday that restaurants are now able to stay open until midnight. This is part of an ease of COVID restrictions as a result of a dramatic decrease in hospitalizations from the virus and an increase in vaccinations of New York residents.

Cherry Lounge owner Tom Constantine said he is pleased to know that his business, located on Cherry Street in Jamestown, is now able to stay open past the previous curfew of 11 p.m. However, he thinks that he will still maintain an 11 p.m. closing time during the week and extend his opening hours on the weekends.

“I’ve become a fan of the new hours,” Constantine said. “The late night business is a different animal compared to the daytime business, and there is less pressure.”

Constantine believes an increased capacity would do more for his business as opposed to a one-hour extension of operating hours. With the current capacity restrictions, The Cherry can only have six people sitting at the bar, whereas without restrictions 13 patrons could be seated at once.

Along with capacity restrictions, Constantine is not a fan of the requirement for people to have food when ordering alcoholic beverages.

“People like to come in and sit at the bar,” Constantine said. “Having to have food with their drinks is terrible.”

Throughout the year of COVID restrictions for restaurants, Constantine said his business has done “surprisingly well.” He has been shocked at the amount of business The Cherry has received despite the slew of restrictions they have had to follow, and notices an earlier dinner surge around 5 p.m. as opposed to the 7 p.m. surge he is used to.

With people becoming vaccinated in increasing numbers, he feels that patrons are more comfortable going out to restaurants for dinner and drinks. Constantine is also hopeful that restaurants will be able to return to their pre-pandemic operating hours “real soon” given the incremental rise in curfew limitations noticed in the past months.

Belle-View East owner Gary Visosky reacted impartially to the new hours, saying that there will be “no impact” on his Falconer restaurant.

His restaurant would benefit more from an increased capacity instead of longer operating hours, since they only stay open until 9 p.m. on weekdays and 10 p.m. on the weekends, if they need to.

With 80 seats in total in his restaurant, he can only seat 40 customers in order to abide by the social distancing mandates. Until the capacity restrictions are lifted, Visosky foresees no impact on his business when it comes to curfew restrictions.

Bill Steen, owner of Steener’s Pub in Bemus Point, said the new curfew of midnight will have “no change at all” for his business.

When asked if he would rather see curfew or capacity restrictions eased, Steen adamantly said that greater capacity allowances would do more for his restaurant. Although he has seen a slight increase in business since people are getting vaccinated in larger numbers, it does not mean much if he can’t serve larger numbers of people.

Although he doesn’t mind the mandate for people to stay seated while dining or drinking, the necessity for people to order food is “a hassle and unnecessary” according to Steen, and a lifting of these restrictions would benefit Steener’s Pub more than any increase in curfew.

Devin Coughlin, manager at Coughlan’s Pub in Fredonia, also sees a small benefit from the increased curfew.

“Curfews are not what’s hurting bars and businesses in the area,” Coughlin said.

Although he noticed a small increase in volume when the curfew was lifted from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. and expects a similar, small increase to happen when the new curfew goes into effect on Monday, Coughlin believes that capacity restrictions are what is really hurting business.

He believes that an increase in capacity would go even further for Coughlan’s Pub than a later curfew. Being able to welcome larger numbers of patrons is more beneficial for business than a later curfew with restricted amounts of people allowed in.

With the incremental lifting of restrictions in the past month, Coughlin is “pretty hopeful” that a return to pre-pandemic hours is approaching. “Sooner rather than later” bars and restaurants will be allowed to go back to normal hours of operation, he said.

With calls to lift the in-seat and food mandates coming from across the state, Coughlin thinks that the former is in place to keep people safe, while the latter is certainly hurting some businesses.

Michelle Turner, owner of Group Ther-Happy in Lakewood, is optimistic that extending the curfew to midnight will positively impact her business.

“Any restriction lifted is a big help, especially to bars and restaurants,” Turner said.

However, as much as she believes the extended curfew will help, she thinks that the lifting of other restrictions would benefit her business more. As much as the reduced hours hurt her business, an increased capacity that allows people to safely enjoy themselves at her restaurant would help even more.

Because Group Ther-Happy has an extensive patio for outdoor seating, Turner is fortunate that she has an increased capacity to allow more patrons to her establishment, a privilege many other restaurants are not so fortunate to have.

Even so, Group Ther-Happy staff have had to turn customers away due to the capacity restrictions in place.

A lifting of the food mandate, too, would also benefit her restaurant. Turner said that she has had customers leave the restaurant as a result of having to order food with their beverages.

Jeff Waddington, owner of Waddington’s Tavern in Falconer, also reacted to the new curfew.

Throughout the past few months of abiding by COVID curfews, Waddington noticed a slowing down of business, especially with the 10 p.m. curfew. However, since the curfew was extended to 11, he has noticed an increase.

He expects the same to happen when the new midnight curfew goes into effect. Although it is only an hour, he foresees it “definitely helping” business, he said. He has noticed differing trends than he is used to, specifically the younger crowd arriving earlier on weekends in response to the curfews.

Although he is looking forward to the extra hour of operation, Waddington believes an increase in capacity would be better for business in general.

“More people means more money flying across the bar,” Waddington said.

However, Waddington has noticed more volume in general because he believes people are “tired of staying at home.” Like other bar and restaurant owners, Waddington would prefer to see a lifting of the in-seat and food requirement mandates.

According to Waddington, the food requirement is “totally ridiculous.” People like to go to bars to have a drink, and he believes the lifting of this requirement would do more for his restaurant than the extending of curfews.

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