Local Bar & Grill Gets Liquor License Suspended for Allowing Dining Inside Atrium


Dining in the Hi-Life atrium.

By Carol Tannenhauser

On Thursday, July 30th, the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) suspended the liquor license of Hi-Life Bar & Grill, on 83rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, for allegedly violating the dining-in ban still in effect in New York City due to the coronavirus.

“I’m still reeling,” said owner Earl Geer, in an email to WSR. “A half hour ago, reps from the SLA came with cops to shut our bar down. Last night, we were given a notice by an SLA rep for utilizing our sidewalk café atrium, with French doors open, to serve diners. This is a gray area, as it has a fixed roof.”

Geer said he was under the misunderstanding that when guidelines were modified to include street seating with solid overhead covering, i.e. tents, that seating in his cafe, with all doors open and plexiglass separating diners, was in compliance.

“We complied immediately on Wednesday night, but today we learned that the ‘Full Board’ voted and suspended a number of licenses, including ours. So much for three strikes,” he added.

The fine for the violation could be as much as $10,000, Eater said.

Geer emphasized that he is “very supportive of Governor Cuomo and all he has done to keep New York City safe,” and will always comply with city and state regulations. “While we would have appreciated a warning,” he said, “We apologize for the misunderstanding and any noncompliance.”

“I’m heartbroken,” said Upper West Sider and tipster Joe Mutz. “I’ve consumed more meals there than I can count.”

Until the matter is resolved, Hi-Life’s kitchen will remain open for outdoor dining and delivery, and they will offer complimentary watermelon-and-mint-infused water, ice teas and Arnold Palmers. Geer is calling this a “neighborhood booze cleanse.”

Earl wrote about the difficulties of operating a restaurant amid the pandemic here.

The staff of Hi-Life created a GoFundMe account to help with Hi-Life’s legal expenses and lost business. Click here to donate.

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    1. Geez Louise says:

      What a joke! With all the crime around here lately, this is really what we’re worried about? This is arguably a better setup than 90% of outdoor seating venues. You still have outside air, are not really inside, and have full barriers in between you and other patrons. Plus, you don’t have a constant stream of people walking directly by you as you eat. This one is a real headscratcher.

      • Weird says:

        Completely agreed. This looks like a much safer scenario for all parties because you don’t have just random people who are trying to get from place to place forced to walk around all of the tables. It sounds to me like I did the person they have in forcing this regulation isn’t really capable of critical thinking or maybe that the enforcers have some sort of quota.

        It’s one thing to enforce the law and quite another to take corrective action in the spirit of the law. Is the goal to keep people safe or just for somebody to check boxes on a piece of paper? Because as somebody who has to hold my breath every time I walk past all of these tables that are taking up the whole sidewalk, this setup sure does look a whole lot safer to me.

    2. Oyster says:

      Hi-Life certainly did everything reasonably and in good faith and it was just as safe as other outdoor dining all over the City. The SLA should dismiss this and let them reopen.

      • Boris says:

        No, they didn’t act in good faith and tried to skirt the regulations. It’s obvious that is INDOOR seating with a large open window. They shouldn’t act so surprised as if they didn’t know. I wish people would stop making such ridiculous rationalizations to justify bad behavior.

        • Yikes says:

          Well, so far out of 15 comments, looks like its just you with that interpretation, Boris. That is no easy feat on this website, or in general.

        • JSN says:

          I agree with Boris. That seems like INDOOR seating, but it might have been an honest mistake, so I’d give them a warning and not fine them.

        • James Demetrios says:

          It’s just you. There are several restaurants with similar dining arrangements that are still operating. I was at a similar one last night. It seems so
          Much safer than other outside seating f where am dozens of people brush by you. So, either there is something else to this story, or it was very unfair.

    3. anthomellius says:

      I am very covid cautious but this seems like overly aggressive enforcement.

      Go after the real violators, but to those that are on the line of what’s allowed and not, give a clear warning at least to give them a chance to comply. Some are clear cut violations and there’s probably a good amount of gray area, and the gray areas should receive ample warning .

      We can’t have another bar/resaurant go belly up on the UWS.

    4. RP says:

      That looks COVID super safe with the full open doors and WAY better than crowded street seats and people walking by. Tough enough to save a business these days. Hope city can see this is a gray area and turns this around quickly

    5. James Brummel says:

      you think it may have actually had to do with all the sidewalk drinking in the area? seems a bit harsh, no warning.

    6. JC says:

      Hi Life has been dealing with the scaffolding for 10 years and are just trying to make money. Yes, it was a grey area, that’s why they should appeal and get it back, and then not use that area anymore.

    7. Sandy says:

      THIS is what they focus on, vs the groups of men that are together without masks a few blocks away? Defies logic.

      • jhminnyc says:

        I agree with you. I see groups of men chatting away up close with one another all the time. It’s like they think the virus wouldn’t dare bother them as they’re men. I guess it’s a macho thing.

    8. J M Kass says:

      My husband and I have eaten at the Hi-Life since we moved to the UWS. Good booze, good vibe, good food.

      Good luck to Earl!

    9. Me in the city says:

      Hi Life has been very conscientious . It’s the only place in the area that had signs all over their outdoor space weeks ago saying drinks are to go only, no congregating on their space,etc.
      I’m pretty low tolerance with violators usually, but this fine seems to miss the spirit of the law. Tell them it’s wrong, give them a chance to correct it, and let it be if they abide.
      What a shame!

    10. Naomi Paul says:

      We are so shocked by this. We are very cautious people, and this restaurant, and one of those tables, was the only reason we decided to eat out last week. We had the benefit of being ‘outside’ and felt better protected by the doors in between the tables. This is such a good restaurant. I cannot believe they are being penalized.

    11. Noel DeKing says:

      P.J. Clarke’s at Lincoln Center has an identical setup along Columbus Ave with seating in an enclosed sidewalk cafe with open windows. As of Thursday they were serving these tables from inside the restaurant.

    12. Marianne says:

      Oh my goodness. Dining with the windows wide open- no difference than being outside on the sidewalk , only more safe since you won’t get run over by a bicyclist or truck when you eat at tables in the gutter. I hope this fine restaurant, where I have frequented often, will be given a break. This is too much of a fine! No fine and just a warning should be enough!!!!

    13. Dan M says:

      I agree with most of the comments- very upset to see this out of the State Liquor Authority. I ate at Hi Life a week and a half ago and felt that the set up they have was excellent- much better than tables right next to each sitting on an avenue. I am not personally against lighter restrictions on outdoor drinking, but the offenses by many in the city have been blatant- why are the efforts not focused here if their goal is to enforce their code. Best of luck to Hi Life

    14. Danny says:

      The Hi Life setup seemed much safer than many other outdoor seating set ups you see.

    15. Jean Luke says:

      From the photo it looks perfectly safe and ridiculous for NY to try and close them. There is ample opening and ventilation. I hope the SLA rethinks that onerous fine and let them continue to operate the way they were.

    16. SB says:

      I feel hi-life got a raw deal. This looks safer than eating under a tent. Even though I’ve never been there I can still say “you gat a raw deal”

    17. KL says:

      How is this not in compliance? We eat at PJ clarkes across from Lincoln Center and also the Greek Kitchen on 10th Ave. And they have the same setup.

    18. Ejlat Feuer says:

      This is ridiculous- the set up in the “cafe” is super safe. Customers are separated by dividers and are for all practical purposes sitting on the side walk. So sad to see this happen to a neighborhood institution that has been serving families for m- must be at least 25 years.

    19. Jonathan mohrer says:

      Earl is a great guy who spent bundles to make his place safe and comfortable. Much more so than his neighbors.
      His feels like a vendetta Let’s see if PJ Clark suffers the same fate.
      Earl, we are with you all the way !

    20. dannyb says:

      Perhaps, no make that, it’s way beyond time, to zero out the SLA. There are a dozen overlapping, redundant, and often contradictory tax supported agencies restaurants have to answer to.
      Cut it down to one or two and save taxpayers money.
      And yes, that might mean cutting staff positions. Get me a violin.

    21. BN says:

      But the protests are allowed?

    22. Anonymous says:

      I’m so sorry to hear this. This was actually the only restaurant that I’ve dined at during covid and I did it because I felt safe with the setup hi life created. Seems much safer than being on the middle of the sidewalk

    23. Julie says:

      This is indoor dining with open windows. It just is. Theres only air flow coming from 1 direction and not 4. You can feel it is safe but they’re not following the rules so I don’t feel too bad for them. By the way the 3 strike rule is for a complete shutdown which they didn’t get.

    24. UWS Wes says:

      Looks pretty safe to me. Our local business owners need a break.

    25. ST says:

      The Hi Life is an UWS institution that has had to suffer for years under a scaffolding that never comes down. Now this??? Did the restaurant get two warnings? Sitting by floor to ceiling open doors seems harmless. Can’t Linda Rosenthal do something? Or State Senator José M. Serrano?

    26. S. Hayes says:

      THIS CITY is reward for all it will enable you to achieve and punishment for all the crimes it will force you to commit.
      Maybe we become New Yorkers the day we realize that New York will go on without us.
      Colson Whitehead
      The Colossus of New York

    27. S says:

      What about Guyer’s? They have violated rules for over a month.

    28. Patrick D Duff says:

      It definitely is a gray area. What Hi-Life did is completely legal in New Jersey where indoor dining is also banned.

    29. Dr. Diana Bloom says:

      It is too soon to open up “As usual”

    30. Susan says:

      They are outside. I wonder if the governor is as strict with dining in the Hamptons as he is with our poor restaurants just trying to survive in the city.

    31. Bill says:

      I walked by there the other day and thought they were pushing it. I think a warning would have been sufficient. It certainly wasn’t necessary to suspend their liquor license and potentially fine them, especially since they complied immediately.

    32. Karen L. Bruno says:

      When will the people of the UWS learn?! When will they start fighting back with their votes?

    33. nycityny says:

      Shouldn’t science be the guide here? How safe are the patrons from the virus? Indoor dining is considered unsafe because of the air conditioning systems distributing the virus and lack of outside air ventilation. Neither of those seem applicable here so what’s the issue? Is it just a technicality? Semantics?

      On Amsterdam yesterday I saw patrons sitting under a tent with plastic barriers separating tables. I stopped to look because it seemed very enclosed and not necessarily that airy/safe. The tables at the large windows at Hi Life seem more “outdoors” to me.

      In the end the issue is the risk of contracting the virus, not the legal definition of inside vs outside.

    34. Michael Rosenberg says:

      HiLife is, by far, the best saloon on the west side!
      This is an egregious overreach in interpretation of the rules!
      This should have merited a warning at most!
      Michael Rosenberg…dedicated customer.

    35. Marilyn says:

      Duh! It’s an enclosed indoor space. Give ne a break, they didn’t know.

    36. Covid Jones says:

      If you want this to end you have to write your state representative and state senator and *demand* that Cuomo’s “emergency” powers be subject to legislative review!

      The state legislature made him a de facto dictator until March of 2021. He can make any rule he wants, regardless of logic or fairness. We are no longer in an emergency, and Cuomo is petty and vindictive. Take away his right to drive New Yorkers into poverty!!

      Find your senator and representative, and demand change:

      https://www.nysenate.gov/find-my-senator
      https://nyassembly.gov/mem/search/

    37. Ellen says:

      I feel bad for the Hi Life Bar and Grill. An UWS restaurant owner I know told me he got a warning call from the City telling him he was in violation of the City’s dining-in ban for the same conduct that is depicted here. Perhaps Mr. Geer can ask the SLA for an expedited review of the suspension of the loss of the liquor license and reinstatement based on lack of notice to cure from the City, especially as these regulations are new. (Also to take pity😉). As to the substantive issue, there is no doubt, in view of what is happening in large segments of our country that are reopening, that not enough precautions are being taken and it is much, much better to err on the side of safety. I know I wouldn’t sit down to dine “at the edge” as I have seen diners doing in many restaurants.

    38. Robert says:

      Our city council rep should demand a little common sense from the SLA, considering the damage already being done to neighborhood businesses especially our restaurants. This virus doesn’t need help from pandering politicians on a power trip.

    39. Naomi Paul says:

      The staff of Hi-Life has started a GoFundMe fundraiser. If you would like to help them out, here is the link: https://gf.me/u/yjvag5

    40. Valerie Duval says:

      Since it was a misunderstand and no intent to circumvent the “rules” can’t we as human beings give this establishment a warning rather than suspend the liquor license. Times are tough enough without no compassion for each other. There was no harmful intent and since a SLA representative was there the night before and saw the seating arrangements and they were give the go ahead to serve diners, which included liquor, While I live in the neighborhood I’m not a “regular” at HiLife but do go there occasionally and don’t want to see this great local establishment under any more constraints than the COVID-19 has already provided. Thanks.

    41. Jackie Hawkins says:

      I just heard! I’m so sorry. I’m hoping they give you some kind of break because you really thought the cafe with doors open would be okay. How long is the suspension for? Best of luck, really sorry & I hope it works out in your favor.
      Jackie Hawkins

    42. Bodhivata Dharmashanti says:

      I have been eating at Hilife often lately and, on weekends, have witness somewhat of a loud, at times even obnoxious crowd with too many drinks in the belly.

      It is very difficult, in a moment of difficulty, to deal with difficult people.

      Earl and his team have been doing a great job, and it is very unfortunate that now they have become the poster-boy of a well thought law in a debatble application.

      It may be hurting the business in the meantime but it won’t kill it. Because the business success is not in the bubbles or the martinis, it is in the hearts of all those of us who came to love this wonderful joint.

      Hang in there Earl, you are writing UWS history every night and we will support you all the way through.

      Pay attention to details, like making the decision of charging me, a regular customer, only to cover your cost for the filet mignon I did not eat last night because I got sick. They say the details are in the devil, I say they are in the Greed Dragon when he bites you in the neck. There was nothing wrong with the filet which looked made to perfection, it was a re-awakening of my meat allergy.
      Never the less…
      See you tonight again,
      Bodhi

    43. Looks safer than most outdoor restaurants

    44. Rik says:

      I have never been to Hi-Life, but looking at where patrons were eating “inside” certainly looks safer than some of the “outside” dining on the upper West Side. The table seemed to be better insulated from neighboring tables than most restaurants, and in other locations it is difficult for those folks walking past the diners to keep a safe 6 feet between tables.

    45. lmm says:

      I’d actually feel much safer with solid walls blocking me from the other diners, than under a tent where you are not as separate. Not to mention, I’ve seen this done in multiple other restaurants around the city. So it seems others may be interpreting the rule in the same way. A warning would have seemed more fair!

    46. James Brummel says:

      from what I understand about the guidelines the issue there is no cross ventilation. Open on one side does not move air around like being open on 2+ sides. I think the fine is out of line and they should have been given warning.

    47. Jon Jon says:

      I see that GEORGE CLOONEY just donated $2,500 to the legal fees. Thank you, George!!

      LOVE LOVE LOVE HI-LIFE…an Upper West Side institution…please show your support and give their EUS some love and business too. And no, I am not an employee, just a local whose called this place my second home for over 15 years.

      • lynn says:

        I’m almost positive the UES location is permanently closed. That was my old neighborhood. 🙁

      • HelenD says:

        I never saw anyone get that excited about George Cooney. Of course I don’t know him, so he may very well be more exciting than George Clooney, heehee.

        • Seriously says:

          When I saw the GoFundMe the other day, I’m pretty sure it was for 15,000. With a potential fine of 10,000 plus other expenses,I get it. But now they’re asking for 50,000? That doesn’t feel right to me.

          • Linsey says:

            Unfortunately, the hearing with SLA isn’t scheduled until the 19th. The organizer increased the amount so they could try to hold on to their 20 employees.

            The GoFundMe page was updated with that information yesterday.

    48. David S says:

      I’m not an epidemiologist, so I can’t comment whether this setup is more or less safe than having the tables outdoors. I’m also not a lawyer, so I can’t comment on whether or not this setup is in compliance with either the letter or the spirit of the regulations we have in place today. I do have some common sense, though, so I will note that it seems like it would have been a very minimal effort to have set up those tables just a few feet away on the sidewalk or in the street, and this problem would have never occurred.

    49. Kimberly Robinson says:

      I was there when the SLA suspended Hi-Life’s license. I felt it was unjust only because they didn’t give Earl a warning and they had inspected Hi-Life before and evidently did not let Earl know that he was not in compliance with the regulations. I was very upset because Hi Life worked so hard to abide by the rules. But goodness will prevail and Hi-Life will come out even stronger. Praying for a fast recovery. Your friend and faithful customer – Kimberly Robinson. Much love to Earl, Sarah and the Hi-Life team. Keep Hi-Life alive!! Hi -Life Bar & Grill Matter!