Sheriff’s deputies arrested Mac’s co-owner Danny Presti on Tuesday for obstructing governmental administration, and a cook, bartender and the bar’s lawyer were also charged, according to the New York Daily News. Presti was released Wednesday.
The tavern’s defiance is part of a larger pushback from bars and restaurants in Staten Island — a borough largely sympathetic to President Trump — that are flouting the state and local restrictions imposed to help stop the spread of a virus that has killed more than 24,000 throughout New York City. The state is facing a significant surge in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths over the past week, according to data compiled by The Washington Post.
It mattered little to the hundreds gathered on Lincoln Avenue on Wednesday night, many of whom were waving American flags in an area described as “the middle of a COVID hot zone.” They chanted, “F--- Cuomo!” and “Open up!” and sang songs like Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and a cover of the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.,” a staple of Trump rallies.
“The people have rights!” one protester yelled, reported the Daily News. “Open the door, I’m thirsty!”
Mac’s first gained attention on Nov. 20, when the bar, ignoring cease-and-desist orders and piling up fines, said it planned to continue offering indoor dining even though it is illegal. The bar’s owners painted an orange rectangle in front of the business to mark their declaration as an “autonomous zone.”
“We refuse to abide by any rules and regulations put forth by the Mayor of NYC and Governor of NY State,” the bar posted to its Facebook account.
A week later, Presti said in a YouTube video, the New York State Liquor Authority suspended the bar’s liquor license. The board’s unanimous decision came after an investigator was prohibited from entering the bar. That day, Presti announced that the bar would serve alcohol and food indoors for free in exchange for a donation “so that we can still pay our bills.” As state officials pointed out to the Gothamist and New York Times, it is still illegal to serve alcohol for free without a liquor license.
“We’re still here,” Presti said Friday. “Keep sending your agencies, 'cause they’re not allowed in and we’re still gonna be here.”
The tension erupted Tuesday night, when undercover sheriff’s deputies entered the bar and counted at least 14 people eating and drinking. Deputies began ordering the bar to close immediately and began issuing tickets to employees for violating local and state restrictions, New York City Sheriff Joseph Fucito told ABC News.
Other charges facing the Mac’s staff include operating an unlicensed bottle club and unauthorized warehousing of alcohol.
When Presti was led away in handcuffs, protesters heckled the sheriff’s deputies and yelled their support for the co-owner. State Sen. Andrew Lanza, a Republican representing Staten Island, told the New York Post that sheriff’s deputies surrounded and physically restrained him as he was attempting to offer legal help to Presti and the bar’s employees.
Presti and co-owner Keith McAlarney did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Wednesday. Spokespeople for Cuomo and de Blasio slammed the bar for “putting your neighbors’ lives at risk during a global pandemic to make a political statement.”
“This owner is learning that actions have consequences,” Cuomo spokesman Jack Sterne told the Times.
In a statement, Mitch Schwartz, a spokesman for de Blasio, added, “COVID-19 doesn’t respect autonomous zones, and neither does the sheriff.”
Louis Gelormino, the bar’s attorney, told ABC that the owners were allowed back inside the tavern on Wednesday, but that the sheriff’s shutdown order remains in place.
“Their intention is to reopen, but right now I don’t think they have the authority to do it,” Gelormino said.
The bar’s supporters returned on Wednesday night to protest its closure. Among the hundreds was one demonstrator who had dressed up as the Grinch, while holding a sign with Cuomo’s face that read, “Covid is not the Grinch.”
While the bar is closed for the foreseeable future and the owners face considerable fines and charges, Presti promised that Mac’s would continue its efforts, according to the Staten Island Advance.
“We take back Staten Island tonight,” he told the crowd. “We take all the states back. This is how we take our country back.”