By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor
Sometime in the last week, the New York State Liquor Authority website updated its rules about live entertainment at restaurants and bars, sending area venues and musicians into an online tailspin.
The Liquor Authority says now on its Website, “Currently, only incidental music performances are safe and permissible.
By “incidental,” the Authority says it means,“Music should be incidental to the dining experience and not the draw itself.”
Further: “This means that advertised and/or ticketed shows are not permissible.”
Venues and artists have taken this to mean that they cannot seek a cover charge, but also that they must not even promote the musicians who are booked to play.
Dave Spory at the Grateful Den on Broad Street, Glens Falls, was among those who were vocal on Facebook about the apparent rule change.
“Hereforth we will not be posting publicly,” he wrote on Facebook. “Please stop in as we have live background music for the foreseeable future. So please, please, please stop in and check out what we have going on, as we cannot publicly advertise.”
Contacted by The Chronicle, Mr. Spory said he and partner Carrie Bronzene saw the articles circulating on Facebook and checked with the State Liquor Authority to confirm the rule online.
They also called to receive direct clarification from a state agent who told them their Thursday trivia nights are still allowable, presuming all other social distancing rules are applied.
They were concerned because the Liquor Authority specifies on its web site that “dancing and bar games such as darts, pool and cornhole” are explicitly forbidden — as are karaoke, exotic dancing and comedy.
As far as live music, “What I’m being told is the entertainer can post when they are playing, but we as a business can’t,” Mr. Spory told The Chronicle.
Chronicle queries to the State Liquor Authority were not returned by press time.
Online, local musicians and music industry observers expressed frustration.
However, artists also seem leery of breaking the rules. Some are posting slyly: “Hanging at [a specified location] tonight,” said Chronicle rock columnist Jason Irwin online. “…If there’s a guitar around I might play it, idk.”
Mr. Spory said he’s mindful of safety precautions and nervous to lose his liquor license, but still, “I think it’s ridiculous. Covid numbers haven’t spiked. Everything’s receding and there are already so many regulations on bars and restaurants. Where does it end?”
Mr. Spory said rules such as this tend to drive customers away, at least temporarily. A prior message, when Governor Andrew Cuomo said alcohol must be consumed alongside substantial food orders, and that appetizers or chips aren’t enough had similar impact.
“People get nervous,” Mr. Spory says. “Can they order chicken wings? Does that count? Some people order a couple dozen chicken wings and that’s their dinner.”
Mr. Spory and Ms. Bronzene took over the Grateful Den from Jeremy Carner in January, with a plan then to eventually purchase the establishment.
“The whole reason we got into this thing was to promote local live music,” Mr. Spory says. “We had it four nights a week, and we were only open five. We had booked out all the way to July, really good musicians.”
Three months after taking over, on St. Patrick’s day, they shut down for coronavirus — then reopened slowly over the summer. “We just brought the music back a few weeks ago,” Mr. Spory says.
He said he aims to continue live music on weekends, even if he can’t promote it.
“We’ve definitely adapted a lot. We’ve trimmed a lot of fat on the menu, honed it into a zero waste machine.”
He says they’re still on track to buy the restaurant out by December 31.
“I don’t fold that easily” Mr. Spory says. “You invest your life savings in a dream and you’re going to stick with it.”
He says, “I tell people we had a great start to bad year. Our five-year plan is to survive the first year.”
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