BY FANNI FRANKL
Cloister Café in East Village is suing The New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) after their liquor license was suspended and restaurant ordered to close following an Instagram post accusing them of hosting illicit pandemic parties.
On Aug. 4, Gothamist.com published an article entitled “Illicit, Underground Pandemic Parties Continue to Proliferate In Manhattan Venues” that listed Cloister Café as one of the venues involved. The publication used Instagram posts by Kristina Alaniesse, who runs an Instagram account under the handle @kristinaformayor in the article to prove that Cloister Café was violating health and safety protocols. The article sources anonymous reports of hundreds of people at the café, all without masks or practicing social distancing. Three days after the article was published, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s COVID task force investigated the restaurant without finding any violations.
Cloister Café plans to sue on the grounds of being denied due process when their liquor license was suspended. The plaintiff argues that the SLA only acted as a result of the social media post made public by the article and that they relied on no other evidence to support their claim. They question the validity of the Instagram post itself since the date and time of the posts cannot be proven. The negligible evidence made by the SLA investigation itself is also addressed by the plaintiff, who sees it as confirmation that nothing illicit was being held.
The SLA denies that their claim of the illicit parties were from the social media account, listing that multiple violations were found on Aug.7 after an investigation was conducted of Cloister Café.
“While we do not comment on pending litigation, any claim that Cafe Cloister’s summary suspension was based on social media posts or media accounts is demonstrably false,” the SLA stated. “The only thing guiding our investigations is a mandate to protect public health and the actions of bar owners — rather than trying to divert attention through baseless claims, this licensee should take responsibility for their actions.”
Among the violations they listed included numerous patrons ignoring social distancing inside and outside the restaurant, the restaurant being run as a nightclub with a live DJ, and a “multitude of significant fire and life safety violations.”
Multiple doctors’ notes were also included as evidence that Cloister Café was operating safely including from Filippo Filicori, a Board-certified surgeon and assistant professor from Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra University.
“I found the staff and its customers to be abiding all CDC recommendations with regards to social distancing, hand hygiene and mask usage,” he said. “I found the staff to be adequately trained in contact and airborne prevention control measures and the environment to be adequately ventilated and therefore not a concerning risk for transmission of the disease.”
Owner Nicholas Drobenko will testify for the damages that could ensue if his restaurant cannot reopen, contending that irreparable harm will be caused by this closure. Mass joblessness for the employees as well as damaged reputation was included in the consequences of closing. According to the restaurant, Cloister Café also relies on its liquor license in order to attract sufficient customers to maintain its business, meaning that permanent closure would be imminent if they cannot reinstate their liquor license.
The plaintiff is looking for compensatory damages for all lost income and an award of reasonable attorney’s fees and costs incurred during the lawsuit.