Some bars in the region are back up and running as a protest against Gov. Tom Wolf’s orders that places restrictions on eateries to curb the spread of covid-19.
But if you want to sit at the bar and have drinks at Al’s Café in Bethel Park, or Piacquadio’s Restaurant and Lounge in Castle Shannon, you have to sign a waiver of sorts first.
“By signing this form I agree that Al’s Café is not liable for any future illness that I may endure. I agree that by signing this I have made the choice and want to sit at the bar and accept all responsibility for my own actions,” reads the half-page form found at the Bethel Park bar and restaurant.
Dillon Carr | Tribune-Review
Rod Ambrogi, of Al’s Cafe, created a form that he has all his bar patrons sign before they can have a drink at the bar.
The form was one action taken by board members of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Restaurant and Tavern Association on Friday — the deadline given to Gov. Tom Wolf to respond to the newly-formed association’s requests to make doing business in the food industry a little easier during the ongoing pandemic.
The restaurant owners are also allowing as many people to come eat inside they can allow while being spaced 6 feet apart.
On July 15, Gov. Tom Wolf issued an order that allows outdoor seating but limits Pennsylvania eateries to 25% of indoor capacity — no matter how large or small an establishment is. The order also put an end to direct bar service.
At Al’s Café, there were around 15 people sitting at the bar at 3 p.m. on Friday. There was banter, laughter, and the sound of sports talk shows.
A bartender, masked, took orders for people who sat 6 feet apart from each other. Many did not have food with their drinks.
Before patrons could be served a cold one, they were asked to sign a form, which also required them to print name, the date, the time and their temperature. The bar was equipped with an infrared thermometer.
“This way, it’s their choice,” said Ambrogi, gesturing toward his patrons sitting at the bar.
He said he sent templates of the form to the other association board members Friday morning. It was not immediately clear which association board members would follow through with opening up their bars and adhere to the 25% capacity rule.
Requests for the association to disclose which establishments will participate in the protest have been denied. Its website does not list them; instead, it states it has 200 members and encourages people to sign a petition that purports to have garnered around 9,200 signatures.
Gary Scoulos, the association’s attorney, was not immediately available to comment on the form’s legal weight.
Yet the association’s Facebook page posted Friday morning this was their “peaceful protest to stand up for your rights, your businesses, your employees and the right to make an honest living!”
Tony Konopka, of Peters Township, said he was there to support Ambrogi, whom he called his “best buddy,” in his decision to stand up to the governor.
“We’re here in solidarity,” he said. “The fact the governor hasn’t responded is absurd. … I mean it’s just horse (expletive). We feel horrible for these people; many of these guys haven’t been paid for weeks or months.”
The association has made three requests:
• Allow for as much indoor capacity that spacing tables six feet apart provides.
• Operate bar services with a 6-foot distancing rule and barriers.
• Eliminate the rule requiring food to be ordered before alcohol is served.
Wolf has not directly responded to the association nor has he agreed to meet them.
The Allegheny County Health Department has repeatedly urged restaurants and businesses to adhere to the governor’s orders.
“We really, really need you to get on board. The virus is not a hoax. It is not a rumor,” said Allegheny County Health Department Director Debra Bogen on Wednesday during a weekly coronavirus update.
Risking liquor license
For bars or restaurants that serve alcohol, defying Wolf’s orders could mean losing their licenses or being charged with misdemeanors, a Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board spokesman has said.
John Piacquadio will also have customers who want to sit at his bar sign the form. When socially distanced, the bar seats eight.
“I’m going to fight for these people’s jobs. That’s it,” he said, referencing his staff of 12. Before covid-19, he employed 24.
He feels Wolf’s orders are discriminatory against restaurants and bars. In the last month, since the governor’s latest order limiting indoor dining to 25%, Piacquadio said he has lost two-thirds of his revenue.
“And if health officials are so worried about kids going back to school, why’d they open Kennywood? Why’d they open Sandcastle? Come on,” he said. “We’re trying to set the standard here. Let us follow the CDC guidelines just like every other business in Pennsylvania.”
Two of his customers agree with his sentiment.
“These rules on restaurants are more strict — more so than necessary,” said Susan Wilcox, who had just finished lunch at the Castle Shannon eatery on Friday.
Wilcox, 59, of Lawrence, Washington County said the pandemic has not slowed her and her husband’s eating-out habits. They regularly visit restaurants in Washington County, Southpointe and Mt. Lebanon.
“We have no issues going somewhere,” she said. “I haven’t seen anywhere that I’ve gone not following the rules.”
Cathy Normandy, 59, of West Mifflin said she supports the association’s stance. Even so, she does not feel comfortable eating out just yet. But it’s not because she’s afraid of getting sick.
“I just don’t like having to wear a mask, can’t hear people talking and can’t see them smiling. And I don’t like all the rules I’d have to follow at restaurants,” she said.
Normandy was on her way out of Piacquadio’s with her favorite fish sandwich.
“It’s just easier to get takeout,” Normandy said.
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, [email protected] or via Twitter .
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