On Tuesday night, about 20 people descended on Dame, in Greenwich Village, to protest the restaurant’s request that indoor diners provide proof of vaccination, a day after the city dropped its vaccine mandate.
Five men entered the tiny seafood restaurant and wouldn’t leave, while others, angered by the restaurant’s decision to continue to ask for proof of vaccination, crowded outside, said Patricia Howard, an owner. The police were called several times, she said, and a neighboring restaurant, Carbone, sent a security guard to help them make a security plan.
“They have every right to protest outside on the street,” said Ed Szymanski, the restaurant’s chef and an owner. “I just don’t want them to be threatening employees and trespassing on private property. If they want to stand outside with picket boards, be our guest.”
When the city on Monday ended its requirement that restaurants ask indoor diners for proof of vaccination, it left it up to owners to decide whether to voluntarily continue those requests. And some restaurants, like Dame, are not ready to let go of the safety measure, which they see as a way to protect their customers and employees.
The incident at Dame began around 8 p.m., when Ms. Howard asked two men to leave. They had arrived without a reservation and the restaurant was fully booked, she said, adding that the men did not provide proof of vaccination and tried to sit at the bar. The men eventually left, but returned with other people and the protest began.
New York’s move to end the vaccine requirement, one of the nation’s most restrictive, was part of a broader effort to reopen the city, whose economy is still struggling, and to bring back a sense of normalcy after the rate of new Covid-19 cases dropped, said Mayor Eric Adams. The announcement came as other cities, like Philadelphia, and states ended their mandates. On Feb. 10, Gov. Kathy Hochul ended a statewide rule that indoor businesses require masks or proof of vaccination.
The mandate was introduced last August by Mr. Adams’s predecessor, Bill de Blasio. Some restaurants in the city and across the country had established their own rules weeks before, during a surge of the Delta variant.
Some restaurant owners, like Ms. Howard of Dame (one of the first places in New York City to ask diners for vaccine cards), are now worried about the potential for disorderly guests who are upset about vaccines. She felt the mayor’s ending the vaccine requirement was a signal that restaurants don’t have the city’s support. “It feels like we’re now on our own,” she said.
Other owners said they fear that by loosening requirements they could end up back where they started if there are new Covid variants or surges.
“At this point in our lives, we feel that small moves are better than large moves,” said Marc St. Jaques, the operating owner and chef of Bar Bête, a restaurant in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, who said the managers decided to continue the vaccine requirement after meeting with his staff, which supported the mandate. “We go little by little to figure out what the best thing is.”
The restaurateurs said the vaccination requirement can keep employees from getting Covid and missing work, or forcing the restaurant to close, as many had to do when the Omicron variant surged this winter.
“Everyone needs money in order to survive, but I care about my staff more than anything,” said Kyo Pang, the owner of Kopitiam, a fast-casual restaurant serving Nyonya cuisine on the Lower East Side. Before deciding to extend the restaurant’s vaccine requirement, she met with the staff, who supported the move. “We wanted people to feel like this is this their second home.”
For Sivan Harlap, a restaurateur on the Lower East Side, requiring proof of vaccination has helped her regulars at Eastwood and the Dancer feel more comfortable dining out, she said.
“We feel like our community prefers to be in a space indoors where most or all are vaccinated,” she said. “It’s the thing that feels right to us.”
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