Boston ramps up coronavirus restaurant enforcement, including 4 suspensions

Boston is starting to crack down on restaurants violating COVID-19 protocols, hauling them into “emergency” hearings to suspend four and warn 13 more for violations including capacity issues, staying open too late and holding a karaoke night.

The city licensing board’s harshest punishment went to Causeway Boston, a restaurant and bar across the street from the TD Garden that the board slapped with an indefinite license suspension that ended up running 16 days. The other three suspensions the board handed out were to Dublin Pub in Upham’s Corner for two days, and Rosa Mexicano in the Seaport and Kava in the South End for one day each, according to information provided by the city.

Causeway’s licensing board summary reads, “Failure to adhere to numerous COVID-19 related operational restrictions including mandatory 9:30p.m. (all patrons for on-premise consumption off the Licensed Premise by 10:00 p.m.) closing hour; prohibition of patrons at the Licensed Premise for more than ninety (90) minutes; and permitting an illegality on premise.” It doesn’t elaborate on the “illegality.”

Information from the city regarding the restaurant’s Jan. 16 hearing said the suspension began “immediately” and was lifted Feb. 3. No one there answered the phone Saturday evening.

The board nailed the Dublin Pub for staying open too late and having too many people at tables, while it hit Kava and Rosa Mexicano for going over the allowed capacity limits, according to the city data.

Mayor Martin Walsh’s administration up until this point had generally avoided punishing restaurants for coronavirus violations, instead largely issuing warnings from the licensing board or violation notices from the city’s Inspectional Services Department, though ISD has fined three establishments amid the 1,868 COVID-related reports and complaints logged since March 11, 2020.

That big number of complaints includes 459 instances in which state contact tracers reported Boston businesses — usually restaurants, and some multiple times — where someone with a COVID-19 case had been, though that doesn’t mean anyone caught or spread the virus there.

The licensing board began holding “emergency” Monday hearings — with an eye on dealing with issues from the previous weekend — on Dec. 21. At the first meeting, the board chastised Rabia’s with an official warning after complaints of the North End spot staying open too late, allowing live entertainment and violating social-distancing rules — and posting on social media about it.

Over the next several weeks, the license board brought in and warned 12 Boston establishments for coronavirus violations — with half of them also being from the North End. Receiving warnings were: Catina Italiana, Strega, Restaurant Bricco, The Daily Catch, Giacomo’s Ristorante and Carmelina’s of the North End; 2Twenty2 of the Bulfinch Triangle area of downtown; Little Q Hot Pot, Sushi Bar and Lounge of Chinatown; Fogo De Chao Churrascaria of the Back Bay; Fat Baby Sushi & Cocktails of South Boston; Miami Restaurant of Jamaica Plain; and 75 on Liberty Wharf in the Seaport.

The violations included staying open too late, exceeding capacity, having too many people at a table and, in the case of the Miami Restaurant, allowing karaoke.

“The warnings included language that any additional COVID-19 related violation would result in the immediate suspension of the license,” the city said.

Walsh, speaking at a press conference this week, said, “I want to be clear, again — we’re enforcing these requirements here in the city of Boston, continuing license board hearings every Monday morning for weekend complaints — any complaints that we get.”

Up until December — nine months into the pandemic — enforcing coronavirus violations was largely the purview of Inspectional Services. ISD hit 40 businesses with closure orders, nearly all of which came over the spring, when many businesses weren’t allowed to be open. The department gave another 40 spots notices of a violation, which is essentially a warning.

ISD gave just three spots a fine on top of the violation notice. Those were: Saraceno in the North End on June 15, Puritan Pizza in Dorchester on Nov. 9 and Sun Pizza in Mattapan on Nov. 10. The city said Saraceno was allowing people to eat inside when state law forbid that, and that the other two had employees not wearing masks.

Read More