We know the stories about Afghanistan under Taliban rule. They elevated the superiority of our liberal ideals. They meted out draconian punishments for drinking alcohol, listening to music, dancing or, God forbid, faces weren’t appropriately covered. We trusted citizens to handle the freedoms bestowed upon them responsibly. We were smug back then. The Taliban were paranoid their society would collapse if lustful pleasures were allowed. These were, after all, immoral contagions.
Funny how things change.
Thinking about meeting a friend in New York City for a quick drink to catch up on coping with life under coronavirus? Think again. Instead of relying on a strict interpretation of Sharia Law, New York City is governed by the edicts of Governor Cuomo handed down through the State Liquor Authority (SLA). Under Alcoholic Beverage Control laws (really, that’s what they are called), you can no longer meet for just a drink. Now you must sit at a table and order food too. No food, no drink. Every quick drink has to become a meal. We get overweight together.
Forced to accept this new reality, you might as well take your partner out for dinner and some music. Live music is the perfect antidote for being holed up in the apartment working all week, often together. Not so fast. SLA has banned planned live music performances. Even if there were music playing somewhere, you wouldn’t know because the SLA forbids an establishment from mentioning it in an advertisement. Under the Taliban this could result in death. Under Cuomo a restaurant loses its liquor license, a death sentence to its livelihood.
On August 28th on lower East side two couples engaged in swaying back and forth to the sinful sounds of an acoustic guitar. The result was that on August 29th Karvouna Mezze, a cozy Greek restaurant with a normally active bar, lost their liquor license because the SLA deems dancing aberrant behavior. Not even at wedding receptions can we dance. New guidelines prohibit dancing or any other “standing” activity like darts, corn hole or karaoke. This has wedding planners taxing their creativity and brides looking for alternative wedding activities.
Today the SLA inspectors seem to be everywhere and treating restaurant owners as if they are common criminals. The owner of Bettola Restaurant on the upper west side was nearly in tears due to the way she was being interrogated. The over-zealousness with which they operate can only be compared to the Taliban Morality Police, or vice squad, which enforced religious observance and public morality. The SLA has become akin to Afghanistan’s Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
No music, no drinking, no dancing and everyone covers their face in one form or another. Mullah Omar, the founder and spiritual leader of the Taliban, would think he won the war if he were still around. To celebrate he would have gone to a little place called Bacha Broot for a bowl of chainaki, a savory lamb stew. Bacha Broot is the oldest restaurant in Kabul that somehow managed to continually serve customers through a tumultuous history that included Soviet occupation, civil war and the Taliban. The point is, Mullah Omar would have sat inside a restaurant and enjoyed a meal, yet indoor dining is another activity that goes against the commands of the SLA in NYC.
While it is nearly universally felt that today’s outdoor dining experience must remain a staple of city living during warmer months, not all restaurants could participate. A bus stop or fire hydrant in front of an establishment eliminated their outdoor dining options. But now all restaurants face a death sentence as the weather changes. Desperate diners will tolerate a little rain in the summer heat, but not when the temperature dips.
New Yorkers need to place to meet, even if we are not allowed to dance or listen to live music. As terrible as it is not to meet a friend for a quick drink on the way to dinner, our “meet a friend for dinner” options are about to disappear if indoor dining doesn’t soon return. New York City will become a lonely place, full of overweight people ordering in, and popping Prozac or Zoloft to manage depression.
Before thanking Cuomo and the SLA for allowing New Yorkers to experience what life was like in Afghanistan in the 90s, remember even the Taliban allowed indoor dining.
*Since this article was written, Cuomo has announced plans to lift the indoor dining restriction on September 30, 2020.