Judge lifts Cuomo’s restaurant curfew order in two western New York counties

A New York judge issued a restraining order Friday afternoon that prohibits the state from imposing its 10 p.m. curfew on dozens of restaurants in Erie and Monroe counties.

The order, which took effect immediately, comes 10 days after about 90 Erie County establishments filed a lawsuit challenging a Cuomo administration order that directs establishments to stop in-person dining at 10 p.m.

In the lawsuit, the businesses pointed to a briefing Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave on Dec. 11 where the state’s contact tracing efforts showed indoor dining led to only 1.4 percent of COVID-19 cases.

“There is no valid or sound scientific or medical rationale for respondents to require restaurants to cease in-person dining from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m.,” the Jan. 26 complaint said.

In a post on Facebook, Steel City Pub, a Lackawanna establishment, told followers they can now stay later.

“We fought the good fight my friends and have seen the other side. We are proud to be one of the 94 Buffalo area businesses to win our right to keep our doors open til 4am,” the bar’s post said. “The rules regarding masks, seating, capacity, and food are still in place of course. Come enjoy yourself all night. Have a drink, have a bite, be safe.”

Arguments for a preliminary injunction will take place on March 15.

The ruling comes as the business community and Republican lawmakers have pushed the administration to ease restrictions on restaurants and bars. Besides the 10 p.m. curfew, restaurants and bars are still limited to 50 percent capacity.

In a statement, state Sen. Pamela Helming, R-Canandaigua, said she hoped the governor would go ahead and end the curfew for bars and eateries.

“These businesses have been among the hardest hit during the pandemic,” she said. “One of the best ways the state can help these owners and their employees is by allowing their businesses to open and stay open. I will continue to fight for this.”

In New York City, indoor dining has been off limits since mid-December, though Cuomo said last week those establishments may reopen at 25 percent capacity starting on Valentine’s Day. He told reporters Friday he may be willing to push up the start date on that.

Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association said the ruling was a “big win for some restaurants” in the Buffalo and Rochester areas.

“(B)ut once again we have an uneven playing field and not all can enjoy a later closing time,” she said. “We now have another patchwork system of restrictions when you also take into account later closing times in neighboring states New Jersey and Connecticut.”

She said New York establishments remain disadvantaged and urged the governor to let restaurants seat patrons at least through midnight.