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Baltimore County liquor board fines seven restaurants, bars for violating coronavirus regulations

Seven bars and restaurants across Baltimore County have been collectively fined $1,750 by the liquor board for violating coronavirus restrictions.

Almost all of the violations occurred July 25, with the exception of The Grill at Harryman House, which was cited two days earlier. The others are Left Field Pub, The Gateway Tavern, Bowley’s on the Bay, New Sue Island Grill, Oliver Beach Inn and The New Dug Out Tavern.

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The establishments appeared before the Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore County on Wednesday and were cited a $750 fine, county spokesman Sean Naron said Thursday.

The establishments are required to pay $250 within the next 30 days. But if the liquor board cites them again for violating Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s order, they will be required to pay the remaining $500.

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Baltimore County has 12,777 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Last week Hogan tightened mask restrictions to help curb the rise of coronavirus cases. Bur before the Republican governor’s order, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. issued guidance July 21 that required all people 2 or older to wear face coverings in all indoor public spaces.

Harryman House was fined for having two employees not wearing masks and two customers leaving the inside of a restaurant without masks, according to liquor board documents.

Owner John Worthington said the two employees were out back behind the restaurant and were not close to customers. He also said he was not notified by the liquor board about Olszewski’s order mandating face coverings inside until days after it had been issued.

“Our employees should have been wearing the masks, I’m not going to deny that,” he said. “We’re all in a difficult situation and we are doing the best we can.”

The liquor board said Bowley’s on the Bay in Middle River was fined because 50% of the staff was not wearing masks and also because there was walk-up service at the bar.

John Henriques, director of operations, said he was “infuriated” by the liquor board and said its claim that staff were not wearing masks is a “blatant lie.”

He said Bowley’s on the Bay is owned by a surgeon who ordered customized masks with the establishment’s logo to ensure that the staff’s uniform would be cohesive but to also make it easy to make sure employees were wearing masks. Henriques said that because the owner is a doctor, the restaurant strictly adheres to the guidelines.

“I have a video of it and not one of them approached the table without a mask,” he said. “All of our staff is wearing them. Every single one of them.”

The director said he misinterpreted the guidelines about serving and thought individuals could come up to the bar one by one to be served. However, he said Bowley’s immediately changed its practices once it was notified it was wrong.

Henriques expressed frustration with the fine because it was the first time the restaurant was found in violation of a COVID-19 regulation and he thought that a warning should have preceded a fine.

“Everyone is trying to adjust and we’re learning,” Henriques said. “I think it’s just unfair for the first time. We’re trying our best to follow the guidelines and follow the rules.”

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Left Field Pub owner Nshiant Shah echoed Henriques and said he wishes the county and state would provide more resources for bars and restaurants to help implement restrictions.

Shah, who owns Left Field Pub in Dundalk, was cited for being over capacity, having pool players not wearing masks, and customers being served while not being seated, liquor board documents said.

The owner said his employees are following the rules and wearing masks but that it can be difficult to police patrons.

“If you visit the establishment and you see someone violating the rules, they should be the ones that get fined and penalized, not the establishment themselves,” he said.

Shah said he also feels there is a double standard because if the customers who weren’t wearing masks were outside in the parking lot, then he wouldn’t be found responsible for them.

“We have no experience more with this than Mr. Hogan, but we are being asked to have more knowledge than him and Mr. Johnny O. [Olszewski] about how to handle these regulations,” he said.

When inspectors arrived at New Sue Island Grill in Essex, a hostess told them that face masks were not required. The liquor board said there was also a dance floor and a live band.

“We observed 90% of the staff with no face masks, patrons showed no signs of social distancing at the bar appeared to be over capacity,” the liquor board wrote.

Owners from the restaurant did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The Gateway Tavern in Halethorpe and the New Dugout Tavern in White Marsh were fined for not having employees wearing masks properly. Middle River’s Oliver Beach Inn was fined for not having proper signage and no employees or customers wearing masks. The establishments did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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