Maskless Partiers Crowd Astoria For Outdoor Drinking, Dining

Maya Kaufman

ASTORIA, QUEENS — Crowds of people drinking and dining on the sidewalks of Astoria are drawing ire for flouting social distancing rules and forgoing masks.

The city's 311 hotline received dozens of complaints Friday and Saturday in the two ZIP codes that cover the main commercial drags of 30th Avenue and Broadway, a Patch data analysis found.

The Grand, at 37-01 30th Ave., was the subject of seven complaints Friday of loud music and customers not social distancing.

George Ballis, owner of The Grand, said he's tried asking the crowds to disperse — but that he gets a profanity-laced earful in return.

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"I beg them like, guys, please, I don't want to get in trouble," Ballis said. "I understand that the local residents are upset, and I hear their frustration."

Ballis said he's doing the most he can: He cleans and disinfects the restaurant weekly, makes his employees wear masks and has his bouncers try to get people moving.

"There's nothing that I can do to somebody when they're on a New York City sidewalk," he said. "All I can do is protect my staff."

Across the street from The Grand, partiers outside Blend Astoria racked up eight complaints Friday and Saturday of loud music and a lack of social distancing and face coverings. (Calls to Blend were twice put on hold indefinitely.)

Another three complaints listed 30th Avenue in general, where videos posted on social media showed crowds of maskless partiers on the sidewalk.

"People seem to forget we're in the middle of a pandemic," City Council Member Costa Constantinides said in a statement Sunday. "While I understand the need for people to get out and our small businesses to reopen, we all have a civic duty to continue to practice social distancing, wear a mask and keep others safe. Our healthcare system cannot take another shock from this virus."

Bartolino's, an Italian restaurant at 34-15 Broadway, got four complaints for social distancing violations Friday and another two complaints that it was breaking rules that limit New York City eateries to take-out and delivery service only.

Police responded to several complaints and "took action to fix the condition," according to 311 records.

Yet about two dozen diners were seated outside the restaurant and seen receiving table service Saturday evening — a setup allowed in other regions of New York as part of the second phase of reopening, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn't yet authorized for New York City eateries.

"We're not violating nothing," said a man who answered the phone Sunday at Bartolino's and declined to give his name, then hung up.

Constantinides, who represents Astoria in the City Council, said the mayoral administration should use resources other than police to enforce social distancing — but even the Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement, which is supposed to be helping enforce the rules, marked a Bartolino's complaint as outside its jurisdiction, according to the 311 logs.

The Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement and the NYPD did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment Sunday.

Astoria is far from an anomaly: The state has received 25,000 complaints of businesses violating reopening plans by allowing large gatherings or not enforcing social distancing and mask requirements, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a news briefing Sunday.

Manhattan and the Hamptons accounted for the most complaints statewide, according to Cuomo.

Photos and videos posted to social media this weekend show crowds of New Yorkers without masks partying on St. Mark's Place in the East Village, drinking on the sidewalks of the Upper East Side and the West Village.

"Serving customers who hang out on the sidewalks and streets violating open container laws, and setting up tables before we are permitted, jeopardizes the progress we’ve made to flatten the curve. And serving patrons not wearing masks does not help either," Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said Saturday in response to the videos.

"This is an extraordinarily trying time for the City of New York and we must run our businesses responsibly, in accordance with government requirements, while demanding that our elected leaders provide us sufficient support to save our industry."

Cuomo said Sunday he would halt or reverse reopening measures in regions where New Yorkers continuously flout the rules enacted to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, and businesses that violate the rules could get their liquor licenses taken away.

"This is a very serious situation and I want to make sure everybody knows the consequences here," Cuomo said.

This story has been updated with a response from The Grand.

This article originally appeared on the Astoria-Long Island City Patch