NYPD Busts Illegal Speakeasy During Quarantine, But There May Be Others

Despite orders for the city to remain in lockdown due to coronavirus, the bar's patrons were drinking, gambling, and "congregating."
old fashioned cocktail speakeasy
Photo: Getty Images

During one 24-hour period over the weekend, New York Police Department officers visited 7,667 bars and restaurants in all five boroughs of the city, and noted that 5,867 of them were closed. Presumably 1,799 of the remaining 1,800 were open and in compliance with Mayor Bill de Blasio's emergency executive order, which limits restaurants and bars to takeaway or delivery orders only.

But the cops responded to a 311 non-emergency call about that other bar, and when they arrived at 354 Kings Highway in Brooklyn, they found 12 people inside what has been called "an illegal speakeasy." The bar's patrons were drinking, gambling, and "congregating" at the time, despite the fact that the business did not have a state liquor license.


In a statement to VICE, an NYPD spokesperson confirmed that 56-year-old Vasil Pando was arrested and is facing eight charges, including operating an unlicensed bottle club, illegal alcohol sale, unauthorized bottling of alcoholic beverage, reckless endangerment, promoting gambling, and criminal nuisance.

The NYPD also confirmed that Pando had been previously notified about de Blasio's executive order, and was found to be in violation. The New York Post reports that the Brooklyn man also has the dubious distinction of being the first person to be arrested for ignoring the city's lockdown order. (And the officers of the 62nd Precinct seem to be familiar with that address: In November 2018, the department tweeted that it had made arrests related to "unlicensed illegal massages" on the second floor of the building.)

The NYPD declined to answer whether it believed that there were other speakeasies operating within the city, but a former Rockefeller University Hospital biostatistician told the New York Post that he had been visiting at least two Upper East Side restaurants that were still secretly serving customers.

“Yesterday I went to my favorite speakeasy and had dinner,” Dr. Knut M. Wittkowski told the outlet, adding that his party included eight others. He also added that he was not practicing social distancing. "This is a flu and this will end like every other flu did before for the last thousand years," he said. (VICE has reached out to Dr. Wittkowski for additional comment.)

Regardless of whether or not you, personally, believe coronavirus is serious or not, NYPD officers will still be visiting restaurants, bars, supermarkets, salons and public spaces throughout the city to politely remind everyone about the executive order, and encouraging them to practice social distancing.

And the mayor is pretty sure that you should already be aware of all of that by now. "You’ve been warned and warned and warned again,” de Blasio said on Sunday.

"They’re going to give people every chance to listen, and if anyone doesn’t listen, then they deserve a fine at this point. I don’t want to fine people when so many folks are going through economic distress, but if they haven’t gotten the message by now, and they don’t get the message when an enforcement officer’s staring them in the face … that person then deserves the fine, so we’re going to proceed with that."

Yes, a reminder—you've been warned and warned and warned again.