NY venues, bars and restaurants suing State Liquor Authority over ban on ticketed events
Ticketed concerts at bars and restaurants have been prohibited in New York State since coronavirus restrictions went into effect back in March, and earlier this month, the State Liquor Authority, or SLA, issued a clarifying reminder of that rule on their site:
Additionally, please note that only incidental music is permissible at this time. This means that advertised and/or ticketed shows are not permissible. Music should be incidental to the dining experience and not the draw itself.
All other forms of live entertainment, such as exotic dancing, comedy shows, karaoke etc., are not permissible currently regardless of phase.
While some called it a new ban on ticketed shows, in a statement to Billboard, the SLA said, "This week, after seeing an increase in establishments advertising ticketed events, the SLA clarified language on its website and proactively emailed all bars and restaurants to ensure they were aware of the months-old restrictions."
Now, Gothamist reports that a group of NY bars, restaurants and venues, including Littlefield, The Sultan Room, and Capitol Theatre, as well as the New York Independent Venue Association, are suing the SLA over the rule. "Despite the fact that coronavirus is not transmitted via sound waves, the SLA just decimated already struggling businesses," the lawsuit reads. "This rule prohibits lawfully operating establishments from advertising the entertainment that is lawfully available: to wit, a ban on advertising of music at food service establishments. This constitutes a content-based restriction on free speech."
The suit accuses the SLA of producing "a myriad of constantly changing and unworkable rules, regularly fining establishments thousands of dollars at a time for hyper-technical violations that did not exist days earlier," and they ask for "restoration of their right to speak and, hopefully, their ability to generate enough revenue to pay their employees and possibly even some portion of their rent."
NYIVA co-chair and LPR co-founder Justin Kantor told Gothamist that the rule clarification was made after venues "spent time and resources on their reopening strategies based on the Phase 4 guidelines that were previously released by NY state. These venues are doing everything possible to safely reopen and offer work to both artists and employees, even if it is at a financial loss, only to have the NY state impose knee jerk regulations that have now added unnecessary and unlawful restraints to our already devastated industry. Furthermore, the SLA is infringing on our businesses' First Amendment rights by restricting the ability to advertise events that have otherwise adhered to all of the reopening guidelines set forth by NY state."
Bill Crowley, a spokesperson for the SLA, said to Gothamist that "while we do not comment on pending litigation, we will vigorously defend New York's data-driven reopening guidelines, which—along with New Yorkers’ sacrifices over the last five months—have helped the state reach and maintain one of the lowest infection rates in the country. With cases continuing to soar in other states, New Yorkers must remember we are still fighting a global pandemic and that limiting mass gatherings is one of the best tools in our arsenal to stop the spread and protect our progress. New York State continues to look at the data and science—here and across the nation—and will update our guidelines accordingly.”