As Weekend Approaches, Astoria Businesses Prepare to Social Distance

M.I.A., one of the bars that lost their liquor license after a wild weekend where patrons did not social distance. Photo by Jose Cardoso

Last weekend, Astoria’s Steinway neighborhood went wild. People threw caution –– and social distancing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 –– to the wind. Crowds of partiers drank on the streets late into the night with some revelers even dancing on top of an ice cream truck. The commercial strip’s party scene, which became known as “Steiami,” a play on “Steinway” and “Miami.” 

Now, after a weekend of chaos that many fear will contribute to the spread of COVID-19 and that resulted in a crackdown on businesses not following social distancing protocols, local Astoria businesses are taking action to prevent a spike in cases and avoid losing their liquor licenses. 

“It was too much,” said Josefab Morales, the owner of Taqueria Cantina Viva Viva, a Mexican restaurant in the neighborhood. “As an owner, we need to be responsible.” 

Local business owners like Morales said they are taking steps to make sure they limit customers and the amount they drink, that masks are worn, and that the large gatherings seen last weekend don’t happen again –– all while maintaining a welcoming environment for everyone.

Morales opened Taqueria Cantina Viva Viva, located at 34-10 30th Avenue, in November. Business was good until he had to shut down in March because of the pandemic, he said. Since they reopened in May, business has picked up and outdoor dining has helped.

Morales has procedures in place for when customers arrive to eat. No alcohol is provided until they are seated. He’s limited the number of drinks someone is allowed to consume and everyone is required to wear a mask.

“If we don’t… the cases will go up!” he said. 

He was disappointed with the chaos that happened last weekend, he said, and believes that the people involved weren’t from the neighborhood. He understands that people want to have a good time after months but that’s not a reason to let your guard down. It’s not worth it, he said. 

City Councilmember Costa Constantinides (D- Astoria, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Woodside) said that there was no excuse for last weekend’s out of control partying in the midst of a pandemic.

“We understand many bars and restaurants are in dire straits because of the pandemic,” said Constantinides. “That’s no excuse, however, for the small few to turn our neighborhood into one giant resort bar.” 

QCP also reached out late in the afternoon to Zohran Mamdani, who was newly elected to the State Assembly to represent the district, but he did not respond in time with a comment.

Bars were allowed to sell drinks to customers for take out only, a representative from Constantinides office said, but they weren’t allowed to have customers drink outside the establishment. Many businesses were doing their best to provide a great experience to their customers while maintaining social distancing but some businesses had obviously taken advantage of the new rules.

Two Astoria businesses –– Brik Bar, located at 32-16 Steinway St, and M.I.A, located at 27-35 21st –– lost their liquor licenses after last weekend’s debauchery for allowing people to party despite the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions.

The Maspeth Pizza House, in Maspeth, also had it’s license suspended. 

Hwal Kim aka Haru, the owner of the Japanese restaurant Mochiron Izakaya, located at 34-18 30th Avenue, and an Astoria resident, said he loves his neighborhood and was shocked to see last weekend’s events.

As a restaurant owner, he said his priorities are to make customers happy and feel like family. 

“I love people!” he said. 

But he must also make sure he’s protecting the safety of his customers and his employees, he said. 

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