Just over a year after opening its flagship brewery in Ridgewood, Queens, cult favorite Evil Twin expanded to include a second location in Dumbo earlier this month. The unveiling of a second bar was to mark a milestone for the decade-old brewery. Instead, it became a focal point for persistent nationwide discussions around vaccine requirements and maskless indoor gatherings.
Shortly after the bar opened in early June, the national review website published The Infatuation published an article on the headline “Evil Twin opens a vaccination-only bar in Dumbo this week”. Although the bar had already posted its social media vaccine-only policy and “got only positive feedback,” according to owner Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø brewery. (The headline and article have since been updated at Jarnit-Bjergsø’s request, he says.)
“It was painful to deal with all of this,” says Jarnit-Bjergsø. “The fact that we only opened a vaccinated bar has nothing to do with saying that people who are not vaccinated are wrong.”
Despite the risk of causing online controversy, guidelines for vaccination records began to appear on reservation pages and Instagram accounts of restaurants and bars across town in May as Governor Andrew Cuomo lifted further restrictions and continued easing that began earlier this year Expansion of the indoor restaurants. Last he has announced that New York would pass federal guidelines, easing the wearing of masks and other regulations for vaccinated individuals, introduced during the height of the pandemic.
Restaurants reacted quickly. The Peruvian hotspot Llama Inn began demanding either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours in order to dine indoors, as in its Resy. listed profile. Hutong, an upscale North China restaurant in Midtown East, has also introduced the same thing conditions. Brooklyn restaurateur Andrew Tarlow from Diner and Roman’s has implemented similar rules in some of its establishments.
For some restaurant and bar owners, converting indoor dining rooms into vaccine-only rooms meant getting back to pre-pandemic levels for the first time in over a year. Many restaurateurs had put their businesses into hibernation, while others only decided to offer indoor seating when they were allowed to fill their seats to half capacity or when a vaccine was more widely available.
“Both Friday and Saturday nights [in early June] almost broke our total sales records, even before the pandemic, ”says the owner of a cocktail bar in the East Village, who asked for anonymity in this article to prevent online backlash against staff. “It was a crammed, crowded dance hall … It was absolutely insane. Vaccinated people are just so excited to come in and be normal. ”
The business at the bar has roughly quadrupled in the last two weeks due to the verification of the vaccination certificate, claims the owner, since the guests no longer have to sit or be socially distant. An employee is stationed at the entrance to the bar looking for vaccination cards, an Excelsior pass or a negative coronavirus test for the last 72 hours. Unvaccinated people can sit at one of nine tables outside.
Others, including Jarnit-Bjergsø, say the only way they could get their stores off the ground was because they could only open as vaccines. Evil Twin, which does not check vaccination records but operates on the honor system, has no outdoor seating due to the quarterly construction in Dumbo. And the interior layout of the bar is such that Jarnit-Bjergsø could only seat a few people with the applicable social distancing requirements. “We did it because we felt we were being forced to do it,” he says. “We had a choice between not opening at all or opening this way … I wish we didn’t have to.”
The brewery’s original location in Ridgewood, Queens, remains open to the non-vaccinated due to the larger outdoor seating area, says Jarnit-Bjergsø.
At the newly opened West Village Restaurant Jolene, owner Gabriel Stulman says the vaccine policy was not finances-driven, but rather a desire to return to the relaxed, communal atmosphere that Stulman’s neighborhoods in downtown Manhattan are known for . When Stulman opened the restaurant in the former Jones Café at the end of May, he and the staff unanimously voted for mandatory vaccination for customers who are allowed to dine inside, while the outdoor terrace has no restrictions. The policy allows vaccinated customers to eat again without barriers, he says.
“These were all gradual steps,” says Stulman of the inch-by-inch return to indoor dining since the beginning of the year. “For me it is like what is the next step-by-step step? The next step is to do two different [dining] Zones. ”
However, these choices come at a price, some owners say. More than a week after announcing its decision to require vaccinations, Evil Twin continues to receive hate messages and threats of lawsuits on social media, Jarnit-Bjergsø said. He suspects this news isn’t coming from Evil Twin regulars – who express support for the guideline in the bar’s original Instagram post – and, based on the profiles of some commenters, may not even come from people who live in New York City, he says.
Meanwhile, the anonymous owner of the East Village Bar received comments on Instagram describing his vaccination record guidelines as “discriminatory” and comparing vaccination requirements with fascism. The owner speculated that online comments could be a reason some restaurants and bars were sticking to the honor system instead of looking for documents at the door and turning down customers, which could spark backlash on social media.
In restaurants, however, the response is more measured than in bars, where the difference between outdoor seating and indoor party atmosphere is clear. According to Stulman, Jolene has not received any negative feedback from customers of the restaurant about the guidelines. Chef Jonathan Benno says that at his upscale Italian eatery, Leonelli, at Nomad’s Evelyn Hotel, few walk-in customers were “unhappy with the policy” even though they made it comfortable to sit outside.
Leonelli hasn’t voiced any criticism in Yelp reviews or Resy feedback online, and there have only been “a few snappy comments on Instagram,” says Benno.
As always during the pandemic, New York has largely left companies alone in interpreting and enforcing the latest health policies, which has also fueled negative customer reactions. Jarnit-Bjergsø expressed frustration with the last minute delivery and the lack of clarity about the state guidelines for vaccinated customers in restaurants and bars. “I find it extremely wrong for New York State to say that vaccinated people no longer require masks and social distancing without giving guidelines on how this will work,” he says.
And soon the leadership will change again. Governor Cuomo announced on Monday that once 70 percent of adult New Yorkers have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, restaurants will no longer have to adhere to pandemic operating restrictions. Dining rooms no longer need to meet social distancing and health screening requirements for all customers, vaccinated or not, at least due to government mandate.
Still, there is little detail on how vaccine requirements in the city’s restaurants and bars should develop in the meantime. “That brings it all to all companies,” says Jarnit-Bjergsø.