A Staten Island bar that declared itself an "autonomous zone" and publicly went against New York's COVID-19 restrictions has been shut down, and one of the owners arrested.
Mac's Public House is located in an orange zone, which means that indoor dining is banned in that area. However, the owners of the Grant City bar continued to serve patrons inside last week. New York City Sheriffs said deputies on Tuesday surveilled the bar after receiving complaints of indoor dining past the 10 p.m. curfew.
Deputy sheriffs witnessed 14 people inside the bar, many of whom were eating and drinking alcoholic drinks, according to the sheriff's office. Plainclothes officers who were seated at a table ordered food and drinks "in exchange for a mandatory 'donation' of $40," authorities said.
Bar co-owner Keith McAlarney says he needs to stay open because it meant he'd be able to pay the bills and feed his family.
"If you're gonna let the big companies do it, you should have found a way to let small businesses be able to do it too," McAlarney said, adding that he's not against the mask mandate or physical distancing but the government needs to help out struggling business owners.
The bar's decision to continue their food and drink service inside resulted in a cease and desist order and a $1,000 fine each day. The bar's liquor license has also been suspended.
But with the bad came some good, at least in McAlarney's eyes: supporters. People have come from near and far to offer their support to the bar, as they are similarly frustrated with the shutdowns. One woman, who is out of work, came up from the Jersey Shore to spend some money at the bar out of "principle," while another man from Newark came over to spray the bar with disinfectant for free. A GoFundMe page was also set up to help the bar.
Full coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak and how it impacts you
Mcalarney called the support that they've received "overwhelming," and had a message for those who think the bar is being reckless by taking the stand.
"If you feel, and you've done your research, and you believe that this is something that could end up causing someone in your family to get sick — they choose to stay home," Mcalarney said. "I'm not trying to trivialize anyone who has to go through this. Believe me, I would not do that. I am a very sympathetic person, I would give the shirt off my back to help anybody. But in America, everybody has a choice on how it is they end up wanting to live their lives."
But on Tuesday, the city released a statement saying that "COVID-19 doesn't respect autonomous zones, and neither does the Sheriff. There are consequences for endangering your neighbors in a pandemic."
Later in the night, co-owner Danny Presti was taken into custody by city sheriffs as supporters looked on. The bar posted a video on social media of officers inside the bar issuing a fine, which generated hundreds of comments, mostly from supporters of the bar.
There were about 50 people who showed up to support the bar, according to NYC Sheriffs. More protesters are expected outside the bar on Wednesday.