United Kingdom

2,000 people gather outside Staten Island bar that declared itself an 'autonomous zone'

An owner of a New York City bar that continued to serve customers indoors in defiance of coronavirus restrictions was arrested after a sting in which plainclothes officers went inside and ordered food and beverages.

On Wednesday night, around 2,000 people were said to be outside the Staten Island bar chanting 'Defund The Sheriff', Cuomo sucks!' and 'USA USA'.

The tavern is in an area designated by Governor Andrew Cuomo as an orange zone because of spiking COVID-19 rates and was not supposed to be serving customers indoors. But the owners had declared the bar an 'autonomous zone,' a nod to protesters who claimed control over a Seattle neighborhood in June of this year.

Attorney Lou Gelormino who represents Mac's Public House, yells at New York City Sheriffs standing guard outside of the restaurant at the start of a rally against state and city mandates to stop indoor dining to control the spread of the coronavirus, in Staten Island, New York 

People gather outside of the restaurant Mac's Public House for a rally against state and city mandates to stop indoor dining to control the spread of the coronavirus

Crowds shouted at deputies after the bar was closed after repeated warnings to stop serving customers indoors

The restaurant is in a section of the city with a high COVID-19 positive test rate which has resulted a suspension of indoor dining, but the owner of the establishment self-declared the establishment an 'autonomous zone'

The owner ignored pandemic regulations and was briefly arrested by New York City Sheriff's

People protest outside of the Mac's Public House after Sheriff's closed it down

It's believed around 2,000 people were gathered outside the bar on Wednesday evening 

The bar has been fined thousands of dollars as it continued to serve patrons inside and to operate past the 10pm curfew for restaurant service that Cuomo imposed citywide.

According to Sheriff Joseph Fucito, plainclothes deputies went inside Tuesday and ordered food in exchange for a mandatory $40 'donation.' Uniformed deputies went in then and issued tickets for state and city violations.

For days, the bar's management were deliberately flouting the restrictions by offering free drinks while requesting 'donations' to skirt regulations. 

Bar owner Danny Presti, 34, was uncooperative and was charged with obstruction of governmental administration in addition to the charges stemming from unauthorized food and beverage service, the sheriff said.

A woman reacts as people protest outside of the Mac's Public House

A man holds a copy of the Declaration of Independence while people protest

Mac's Public House's co-owner Keith McAlarney speaks outside of the Mac's Public House

Mac's Public House is located in Grant City, a coronavirus hot spot, and with hospitalizations surging, Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered indoor dining suspended there

For days, management had been thumbing their nose at the restrictions, even offering free drinks while requesting 'donations' to skirt regulations

A woman yells as New York City Sheriffs stand guard outside of the restaurant Mac's Public House at the start of a rally against state and city mandates

Pesti ignored repeated warnings to stop serving customers indoors. 

Fellow owner Keith McAlarney said he took such actions because he felt his business would not survive another shutdown. 

'We are just trying to make a living and feed our families,' he said outside the bar on Wednesday. 'We jumped through every hoop, did whatever they did. But at some point, you can't just keep shutting down.' 

'You can go to the top of that hill at Lincoln Avenue and Richmond Road, and you can go inside and eat,' he said to ABC7. 'But you can't go inside my establishment and enjoy a cold beer and cheesesteak with friends and family.'

McAlarney says he felt his business was being targeted and he was taking proper precautions.

A large crowd of Staten Islanders assembled outside the establishment to protest the state's coronavirus restrictions

It's believed abut 2,000 people gathered outside with many carrying American flags and signs

Protesters sang 'God Bless America' as the rally's 6pm start time neared. The crowd also sang the chorus of 'We're Not Gonna Take It,' by Twisted Sister.

Mac’s Public House first found itself at the center of controversy when it said on November 20 that it planned to continue indoor dining despite being in a state-designated coronavirus micro-cluster orange zone, where it is illegal

People sing the National Anthem while gathered outside of the restaurant

Tension between the restaurant and state officials erupted on Tuesday and continued into Wednesday

Mac's was allowed to serve takeout food and alcohol, and offer outdoor dining but it was not supposed to allow people to eat or drink inside

'Since 10 years old, everybody wanted to be fireman and cops, and I wanted to own a bar,' he said. 'It's being stripped from me.

'It's time for all small businesses and citizens to stand up. If enough business owners throughout this city, state, country, open their doors and disobey these tyrannical orders, hopefully they can get their businesses back and we can get country back to where it needs to be.' 

Lou Gelormino, an attorney who represents the tavern in its battle against the state and city, was there during the bust and was also ticketed. 

Gelormino told the Staten Island Advance that Presti was arrested because he didn't want to leave his business 'and at that point ... they considered it trespassing.'

'I can assure everybody there wasn't a person in the place that was disorderly, disrespectful, or not courteous,' attorney Gelormino said to ABC7. 'Executive orders are emergency powers that are supposed to be short lived and narrowly tailored.'  

Another attorney for the bar, Mark Fonte, told the newspaper, 'These sheriff's officers are 'wannabe' cops. This is what happens when little people get a little power.'

An attorney for the owner of the bar Louis Gerolmino, (C), is seen outside of the Mac's Public House after closed it down

Staten Island’s infection rate has been among the highest in the city hence the restrictions

The bar was exploiting a loophole by accepting donations instead of charging customers for menu items

Neighboring businesses showed their support for Mac's Public House

A man looks on as people protest outside of the Mac's Public House after closed it down

State Senator Andrew Lanza, a Republican, sought to calm the dozens of tavern supporters who jeered as Presti was led away in handcuffs. 

Lanza said the bar owner should not have been arrested but added, 'We respect law enforcement on Staten Island like no other borough.'

Presti owns Mac's Public House with Keith McAlarney, who was not present during his arrest. 

'This man was arrested for trying to earn a living and trying to pay his taxes,' Staten Island Borough President candidate Leticia Remauro said. 'That is insanity.' 

'This is disgusting,' one community activist said. 'This is selective enforcement. This is unconstitutional.'

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