Bars Are Serving Ridiculous $1 Menu Items to Stay Open During COVID Restrictions

Offerings like "Cuomo chips" and "Handful O' Croutons" have appeared on menus in New York as bars look for ways to keep their doors open.
July 22, 2020, 11:00am
beer and chips

On Friday, a new executive order from New York governor Andrew Cuomo went into effect, one that requires any bar or restaurant patron to buy some kind of food if they want to order alcohol. Additionally, the bar areas themselves can only be used by seated customers who are spaced at least six feet apart from each other or have some kind of physical barrier between them.

"As we continue our science-based phased reopening, the number of hospitalizations and our rate of positive tests remain steady and low," Cuomo said. "But we need to remember our success fighting this virus is a function of our own actions. Mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing—basic as they may seem—are critical to controlling the spread of this virus [...] We know the prescription and we know it works, we just need to be smart and do it."

Cuomo has expressed concern about bars throughout the state, and about the ability (or inability) of people who have been drinking to maintain adequate social distance. As a result of the new requirements, some establishments hurriedly expanded their menus, adding some cheap snacks so they can still serve drinks.

Harvey's Restaurant and Bar in Saratoga Springs was one of the first to find a $1 workaround. "In 1853, Chef George Crum created the first potato chip at Moon's Lake House in Saratoga Springs," the bar posted on Facebook. "In 2020, Chef Adam Humphrey created the first Cuomo Chip at Harvey's Restaurant and Bar."

Over the weekend, the bar started offering $1 plates of "Cuomo chips"—literally just bowls of potato chips—to customers. When those ran out, it switched to mini pretzel bites and an elaborate $1 roasted beet and goat cheese flatbread. "It started as, not so much a joke, but at least to make light of the situation that we had another unexpected hurdle that we had to go through," Harvey's owner Matthew Bagley told CNN. (He pointed out that the bar does have an actual menu, too.)

Other joints quickly did the same. One North Syracuse restaurant is selling a variety of $1 “compliance” items, like a four-ounce cup of whipped cream. Lafayette Brewing Company in Buffalo changed its menu to include one piece of charcuterie meat, "just a few grapes," or nine French fries, but it has since swapped that out for a slightly more serious list of ultra-small plates.

The State Liquor Authority (SLA) typed out a detailed description of what it considers to be "food," a definition that varies depending on what kind of place is involved. For manufacturers like breweries, distilleries, and wineries, "food" includes sandwiches and soups, along with "food items intended to complement the tasting of alcoholic beverages [...] including but not limited to cheese, fruits, vegetables, chocolates, breads, mustards, and crackers." In bars and restaurants, "food" can be sandwiches, soups, or other fresh, frozen, processed, or precooked items.

Harvey's was initially warned by the SLA that straight-up snacks like crackers, chips, or nuts would not comply with the regulations unless they were also accompanied by a dip or sauce. But Rich Azzopardi, the governor's senior advisor, told the New York Post that $1 portion of chips would be acceptable, as long as the customer was seated when he or she ate them. The whole thing echoes pre-Prohibition laws that similarly required the serving of food with alcohol, which, at the time, resulted in some bars serving the same dusty, uneaten "Raines sandwich" to patrons over and over for up to a week.

This particular method of just inching over the requirements isn't limited to New York; on Monday, a popular post on the r/funny subreddit reportedly showed the menu from a restaurant in Pennsylvania that was trying to skirt a similar "food must accompany every alcohol order" requirement. It featured items like a 50-cent onion ring ("The only hoop you need to jump thru for this beer") and a 5-cent cheese puff ("They usually come in a pair but [Governor Tom] Wolf has the other one.")

Despite its impromptu $1 menu, Harvey's Bar swears that it isn't trying to be political, nor is it trying to find a loophole in the governor's requirements. "At no point has this business been lacking in compliance. We feel very strongly here that we have an obligation to do our utmost to protect our guests, and our staff," it wrote. "While the sudden regulations imposed on businesses are difficult to work with- it is our responsibility to work within the confines of these decisions. And if possible- with some levity [...] Our only concern is the well-being of our guests, and the livelihood of our staff."

And presumably, whether or not it has enough Cuomo chips to make it through the week.