George Keeley’s Liquor License Suspended, Because State Says Popcorn Isn’t Enough Food

George Keeley’s.

The state has suspended the liquor license of another Upper West Side bar for Covid-related violations.

George Keeley’s at 485 Amsterdam Avenue (83rd Street) had its license suspended on Friday because inspectors said the bar was not adhering to the state’s rules. Bars can only serve liquor if the patrons are also ordering and eating food. And George Keeley’s had too any people around a table where the only food was popcorn, inspectors said.

“On July 30th, investigators with the state’s multi-agency task force observed twelve patrons standing and congregating around high top tables outside the bar with alcohol and with just one basket of popcorn on the table,” the state said in a press release.

The state also suspended the license of Hi-Life Bar & Grill last week.

We’ve reached out to the owner of George Keeley’s and will update this if we hear back.

Update: WSR spoke to Christopher Giudice, owner of George Keeley’s. He said, “There was no three strikes, absolutely no warning at all. Furthermore, we got contradictory advice from different agencies, and sometimes the same agencies. The actual charge was not serving a ‘substantial’ amount of food. How do you define ‘substantial’? Twenty years and not a blemish on our liquor license. We’re walking on a thread here, trying to pay rent and stay open. We’ll know more tomorrow.”

FOOD | 47 comments | permalink
    1. Michael G says:

      Have to say I’m feeling sympathetic with George Keeley and other local businesses. NYC has lost so much economically and culturally as it is.

    2. Boris says:

      I can appreciate that the owner doesn’t understand the intent of the ‘substantial’ part of the food requirement if he doesn’t understand what the three strikes policy is either. All it takes is a little more adherence to the rules and bars/restaurants wouldn’t be restricted. Is it that hard to be in compliance when the State is obviously determined to not let crowded situations result in Covid spikes again?

      • Johnny says:

        @Boris, how can you expect a proprietor to conduct business when the guidelines are so vague? It seems the owner is very involved in taking care of his business and trying his best to comply.

        • Boris says:

          The guidelines are actually not vague and have been on the books for a long time. Only establishments that serve food are allowed to serve alcohol. Prior to Covid, patrons didn’t have to buy food in order to drink though food had to be available. Real food, not snacks. I’m not buying that owners who have been licensed by the SLA for 20-30 years weren’t able to avail themselves of proper guidance.

          This is also what the guidelines says:
          “As a restaurant and bar owner interested in continuing to assist in our shared public health goal, you should not be looking for ways to circumvent the dining or meal requirement nor the purpose behind it, as it jeopardizes the public health and the progress all New Yorkers have made. Obvious efforts to circumvent will be treated as violations of the Executive Order.”

          • Caroline says:

            We have been patrons of George Keeley’s for years, and not just because of the drinks, but because they have wonderful food, and have always been a kid-friendly space. We have gone their for dinner since COVID and they were doing a great job of informing people about the food requirement and trying to keep crowds dispersed. They should have at least received a warning and a chance to comply more fully. We felt incredibly safe when we were there. It feels wrong to punish a place like George Keeley when there are spots that are blatantly ignoring the rules.

    3. Tax Payer says:

      I’m sorry. Remind me why we need to eat food to drink?

      • Old Stones says:

        So you don’t get smashed and act stupid—e.g. forget about social distancing and start grabbing strangers.

      • Boris says:

        “As a restaurant or bar owner, in determining whether a particular item is substantial enough, please keep in mind the purpose of this policy: to ensure that patrons are enjoying a sit-down dining experience among a small group with drinks, i.e. a meal, and not a drinking, bar-type experience. A drinking, bar-type experience often involves or leads to mingling and other conduct that is non-compliant with social distancing and the use of face covering and is therefore not yet a safe activity during the current health emergency. The spikes/resurgence of COVID-19 cases that this has caused in other states is something that New York must avoid at all costs.”

      • Evan Bando says:

        In the time of COVID, restaurants are good, bars are bad. People can eat while social distancing; drinking, not so much. At least that’s the working principle and who are we to judge the well-intentioned. Consequently, some bars – in the time of COVID – are trying to masquerade as a restaurant by serving food. And the City and State of NY are okay with that. They want to help the small business owners after all. But the food they serve must be reasonably substantial. Popcorn – in or outside the time of COVID – is not considered substantial food (except perhaps by super models). Hence, George Keeley’s, a fine establishment, but, unfortunately – in the time of COVID – just a bar, has been busted. What if the patrons came into the bar with takeout? Would that satisfy the new logic – in the time of COVID?

        • Brian says:

          Keely’s actually has a full menu, so I am really not sure where you’re going with this comment – in the time of COVID.

          • Meghan says:

            To that point it sounds like the server screwed up. George Keeleys has a great menu that serves dead poet, too. So they were serving food…

            This feels aggressive.

      • David S says:

        “Remind me why we need to eat food to drink?”

        Well, first of all, if you drink alcohol for a long enough time without eating, you eventually die. Technically, if you go long enough without eating, the drinking alcohol part isn’t actually required, but you get the point.

        But the issue at hand here is that a crowd of people eating a meal and drinking tends to be much less dense than a crowd of people just drinking. And minimizing crowd density is definitely something we should all be striving for nowadays.

    4. W78 says:

      Lord Cuomo doing his best to stay in the limelight and remind everyone that he’s running in 2024 as covid czar, local economy be damned. Shame these honest business owners who are just trying to follow the rules and stay afloat have to suffer.

      • Reality Speaks says:

        “Lord Cuomo”???
        REALLY? Sure, 3-term Gov. Cuomo took a classic New York ‘tough-guy’ approach…and it worked!
        NYS and NYC Covid cases/fatalities went way down and remain down compared to many other states seeing huge spikes (California, Florida, Texas, etc.)
        Yes, ‘The Gov’ CAN be abrasive, but at least he’s a take-charge leader…unlike someone at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

    5. Buddy Revell says:

      Relying on a three strike policy just proves the owner is being glib. Everyone knows the rules are set up to prevent groups for boozing and congregating in a manner that is not consistent with a restaurant atmosphere. The state, for good reason, is trying to avoid an east village bar scene. Sorry, but I don’t have any sympathy for the owners who are clearly trying to circumvent the rules.

    6. UWS hero sandwich says:

      I will say that all the UWS restaurants I’ve been to all require “substantial “ food. Playa Betty for instance requires two tacos per patron. The rules suck but many establishments are adhering.

    7. 1984 says:

      George Orwell would be proud.

    8. ZoomZ says:

      Big brother.
      OK, to be PC 2 – Big sister.
      French fries is food.
      Popcorn is not.

      And on the 7th day, God saw all he created
      is good, and he rested.

      NY state & city gonme mad.

    9. Marianne says:

      Instead of cracking down on numerous residents of the lucerne hotel who are flooding our neighborhood under the influence of hard drugs and alcohol, they’re suspending the liquor license at O’Keeley’s? The state should get their priorities straight.! I feel so bad for this establishment!

    10. Upperwestslider says:

      More random, inconsistent and arbitrary rules from Il Duce.

      • Boris says:

        There’s nothing random, inconsistent and arbitrary about the rules. They’re pretty clear and most other establishments have understood and adhered to them. But Keeley’s is trying to skirt the rules since no one really goes there to eat.

        What’s inconsistent and arbitrary is the approach you would like the SLA agents to take by making exceptions as they see fit instead of applying the rules equally to all.

    11. Shaking my head says:

      Is there a place they can appeal the fine?

    12. LongtimeUWS says:

      Interesting about Hi-Life. 2 weeks ago on a Saturday evening, we were looking for a place to have dinner. While reading the menu at Hi-Life, we noticed a group of about 30 people having drinks in front of the shop next door. They were being served by Hi-Life. None had on masks and they were practically on top of one another. I mentioned this to the hostess. She replied that there was nothing they could do to break up the group. Bad call.

    13. Cordcutter says:

      Just keep making it more and more difficult for restaurants and bars from making a dollar. smh

      • Boris says:

        Just keep making it more and more difficult for us to get past Covid. It’s obvious that people cannot be relied upon to practice safe distancing if left on their own. In your world, the patient would just bleed continuously.

    14. Ari says:

      Folks forgot how scary things were in March. We haven’t beaten the virus—only stalled it. One basket of popcorn for 12 people not only is not enough food, but also it means those twelve people were sharing germs grabbing fistfuls from the basket, and there’s no way they all live together. So the wait staff allowed twelve people to split a food item that shouldn’t count as a meal for one person and also let them dig in together. That‘s pretty careless, and careless is how we get another surge.

    15. Boris says:

      It seems like owners are not discouraged to take risks because they think sheeple will pitch in to help them out through GoFundMe efforts if things go bad. There are so many more needy people than arrogant restaurant/bar owners who knew what they were doing was wrong. They always act so outraged and surprised when caught.

    16. AC says:

      I can’t help but laugh at the sad state of affairs taking place at my home of over 50 years. “Protestors” are allowed to close highways, cause disruption, spit at cops, vandalize property, break windows and rob businesses, AND here we are punishing businesses who are trying to stay afloat during this pandemic??? Surely even those who agree with the State’s point on these suspensions must admit that something doesn’t seem right?

      • NYC25 says:

        Couldn’t agree more. Hear, hear!

      • Marianne says:

        AC: I agree 100%. What is allowed and what is not seems random and illogical. The result is the destruction of NYC small businesses and creation of chaos.

    17. UWS_lifer says:

      Why does it feel like many of these comments, at least 6, are by the same author using different names.

      If you read comments #3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13
      by Taxpayer, W78, 1984, upperwestslider, shaking my head, and cordcutter it seems pretty clear that these are just a bad faith attempt to push an agenda by a single, very zealous person.

      All generic names that are brand new around here. Same writing style, same message, same sense of “humor”.

      Just an observation from a regular on these message boards. Thanks.

    18. Josh says:

      First of all, my favorite bar on the UWS is George Keeley – my name is almost on the wall for the beer list.

      Secondly, come on. This was obviously flouting the law to the detriment to society. The rules are in place to protect the general public. These are not the rules to try to bend to your will.

      Third, as he speaks of 3 strikes, sounds like the State found 12 strikes at the same time.

    19. Craig says:

      This is unbelievable. We have Inept government Officials with no risk and no worries about losing a paycheck punishing risk takers, restaurant owners. It’s the restaurant owners that hire people and expand the economy. The government officials just take our tax money and make arbitrary regulations with little supporting facts. I can’t believe this is legal. I will fully support the restaurant if it is able to reopen.


      • Coleman says:

        Yes, some bar owners are risk-takers–they’re risking our health and safety. No thanks. I didn’t love having morgue trucks parked outside our hospitals. Did you?

        • Craig says:

          Please review the data on cuomo’s website. The percentage of positive tests in Manhattan has been less than one percent for the past month. The only real risk we have is a depression. Sadly, 90% of the restaurants in the city will be closed come January. I see so many vacancies already. Do you?

    20. Deborah Hallett says:

      This is outrageous. The UWS restaurants and bars are trying to stay alive and help us residents. Get out of the way Mayor DeBlasio. Apparently the 3 strikes rule isn’t being adhered too either by your enforcers

    21. Robert says:

      Where is the common sense? Where do they get these inspectors, ICE? Fresh from ruining families on the border? Let’s just go ahead and put the last restaurants and bars out of business, so we can replace them with homeless shelters and soup kitchens for all their former owners and employees. Bill DeBlasio should stop helping this coronavirus destroy our city.

    22. Janis says:

      Although I respect what the governor is trying to do, which is continue to stem the spread, it does seem rather harsh to shut the place down right away.
      I think one warning would have been sufficient and after that, no compliance, no liquor license.
      Things are tough enough for the proprietors and I’m happy to see all the other establishments that ARE complying.
      In relation to the WSR’s other story, during the high winds today I can imagine all those street setups can pose some dangerous situations.
      And one other problem. I shudder to think what will happen when the weather turns colder if we are still in this situation.

      • Boris says:

        Keeley’s was NOT shut down. It would take 3 strikes to be shut down.

        Enough with the ‘give them a warning’ suggestions. The SLA agents have so much ground to cover that just running around the City giving warnings wouldn’t accomplish anything. If owners knew they would get a warning, do you really think they would comply before the warning was given? The probability of getting a suspension or shutdown is what keeps them in line.

    23. UWS Inhabitant says:

      This is insane. If only the governor spent half as much time on the spike in crime and homelessness. He always claims he believes in facts, science. There has been a LOT of outdoor drinking the past months, how many documented covid cases to we have from that? Zero. 10 people is ok but 12 is public health threat, and salad is ok for drinking but popcorn isn’t? Keely’s was doing their best to follow the rules, always have been. Last Thursday I was required to have food, the bangers are delicious btw. Not fair 4 tabled bar shut over an aberration. It’s BS.

    24. UWSMuscle says:

      A friend of mine says despite building projects being completed, the inspectors needed to confirm scaffolding can come down are busy handing out violations to restaurants because “that’s where the money is right now”. If that is true, it’s sad that NYC is hurting already suffering small business owneres and restaurants to make $ instead of using that same manpower to better our community and city. These businesses have been decimated and the city is bleeding from a wound they may be too open to heal from.

      • Boris says:

        I gotta laugh at ‘heard something from a friend’ comments. This makes no sense because SLA inspectors employed by the State do not also inspect scaffolding. That is done by Buildings Dept inspectors employed by the City.

        Even so, scaffolding doesn’t kill anyone. Covid is a health priority.

    25. notsofast says:

      One basket of popcorn for 12 people is obviously not a “substantial” amount of food. He was just trying to get away with flouting the law, & he got caught.