WATERTOWN — The Hitchin’ Post Tavern has become the first bar in Jefferson County to be closed down due to violations of the state’s COVID regulations.
Owner Cliff Pickett confirmed Wednesday night State Liquor Authority investigators came to the bar at 404 Court St. at about 7 p.m. and closed it down.
Last week, a video surfaced showing roughly 25 people in the bar not wearing masks, a state requirement Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo put into place to prevent the spread of virus.
Mr. Pickett, who has owned the bar for 22 years and worked there as a bartender for 20 years previous, said investigators took down his liquor license from the wall and put up a letter on the front door before shutting the tavern down and leaving.
Just a couple of hours later, he wondered whether the bar will be able to reopen after the pandemic.
“Do you think Cuomo is ever going allow it to reopen?” Mr. Pickett said.
The cellphone video from early September showed a crowd of people not following state social distancing requirements, and few of them wearing masks. But Mr. Pickett said Wednesday night he was in the hospital after suffering a stroke and instructed bartenders to follow restrictions he set that would comply with the state rules.
“If they’d done what I told them to do, I’d be open,” he said.
He fired the staff and will not bring them back if he’s able to reopen, Mr. Pickett said.
“They were getting big tips allowing people to do what they wanted,” he said.
Now in a wheelchair, Mr. Pickett checked himself out of physical therapy against doctor’s orders to try to take care of the situation, he said.
He was insistent he did everything he had to do to comply with the state’s COVID regulations. He hired two employees solely to make sure people wore masks. Ten picnic tables were set up out back from the bar. He also put soup on the menu to comply with the state’s rules that food must be served.
But the video made its way to Jefferson County officials and the Watertown Police Department, and a complaint was made.
The state liquor officials became aware of the violations, said County Legislature Chairman Scott A. Gray, a member of the control room, a group of officials from surrounding counties who are dealing with coronavirus issues.
The SLA officials must have confirmed other incidents at the Hitchin’ Post for them to take the action of closing the bar, he said.
It just takes one person with the virus to be in the bar and cause it to spread throughout the community, Mr. Gray warned. That’s what happened when three restaurants were forced to temporarily close when an outbreak hit Clayton this summer, he said.
The county continues to receive three or four complaints a day about businesses not complying with state COVID regulations. Mr. Gray confirmed another local bar is under investigation for violations.