4 Burlington bars accused by the state of violating COVID-19 guidelines

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Four Burlington bars have received written warnings from the Vermont Department of Liquor and Lottery in the past week for allegedly violating rules for operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The four bars are:

  • Red Square Bar and Grill on Church Street
  • Akes’ Place on Church Street
  • The Other Place on North Winooski Avenue
  • JP’s Pub on Main Street

All four establishments were accused of disregarding rules for establishments laid out in Gov. Phil Scott’s state of emergency executive order. Red Square and Akes’ Place were issued warnings on June 24. The Other Place and JP’s Pub were issued warnings on June 30. 

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger noted the warnings during a COVID-19 pandemic update on Wednesday. His office received calls this weekend from people who were concerned about establishments that were violating rules.

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Owners of three of the bars did not respond to requests for comment. A man who identified himself as the owner of Red Square but declined to give his name declined to comment.

What does the governor’s executive order say? 

State officials began allowing indoor dining and drinking again on June 8. According to the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, bars must currently abide by the following rules:

  • Restaurants, catering, food service, and bars may allow 50% of fire safety occupancy with a maximum of 75 people indoors and 150 people outdoors.
  • Standing within an establishment to eat or drink is not allowed.
  • Seating must be available for all patrons and must allow for 6 feet of distance between seated dining parties. 
  • Bar seating and drink or food production areas must remain closed to dining.
  • Reservations or call-ahead seating is required. Waiting areas must be able to accommodate physical distancing requirements.

What were the alleged violations? 

Reports written by Liquor and Lottery Investigator Matt Gonyo accused the bars of the following violations: 

Akes’ Place

Gonyo said the bar was in violation of social distancing and capacity requirements. Investigators had received several complaints from community members concerned about the safety risk Akes’ Place and neighboring Red Square posed.

When Gonyo confronted bar owner Josh Markele with the allegations on June 24, Markele said “he was unclear about much of the information that was put out by the Executive Order and the ACCD and felt there was ‘a lot of grey area,'” according to the report.

“Markele advised he wanted to be safe and compliant and was doing the best he could given the circumstances,” Gonyo wrote in the report.

Red Square 

Gonyo also spoke to the general manager at Red Square on June 24 about allegations that the bar was in violation of social distancing and capacity requirements. The manager told Gonyo that he was “was extremely short staffed and the place became out of control as patrons began to flood in by masses,” Gonyo’s report stated. 

The manager said “he was aware of the overcapacity issue and said he would take stronger measures in the future to stop the capacity from growing out of control.” 

The Other Place

Gonyo said he noted several violations of the governor’s emergency order on June 30, including that patrons were sitting at the bar and there was no occupancy rating posted on The Other Place’s front door.

JP.’s Pub

According to Gonyo’s report, he noted the following violations on June 30: 

  • Patrons were sitting at the bar. 
  • There was no occupancy rating posted on the front door. 
  • Patrons were not observing social distancing rules. 
  • Staff were not wearing masks while working, including the bartender Gonyo approached to report the violations.

‘The city is going to be watching’

Weinberger said over-attendance at bars around the country has been causing spikes in COVID-19 cases. This trend makes him wary considering the alleged non-compliance recently in Burlington. He said that the city’s success in boxing in COVID-19 is fragile.

No spikes have been recorded in Burlington associated with the warnings as of Wednesday. 

“Going forward, I just want to be really clear that, knowing the risks that these bars represent, knowing what a sensitive time in this pandemic we’re at, the city is going to be watching very closely,” Weinberger said. “Bars need to comply on their own proactively, or we’re going to have to find a way to take further action.”

Contact Elizabeth Murray at 802-651-4835 or emurray@freepressmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizMurrayBFP.

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