CORONAVIRUS

Cedar Rapids mayor warns liquor licenses at risk for bars that ignore coronavirus shutdown

Phoebe Charles, owner and general manager of Rodina, talks March 20 with a carryout customer at the restaurant in Czech
Phoebe Charles, owner and general manager of Rodina, talks March 20 with a carryout customer at the restaurant in Czech Village in Cedar Rapids — doing what bars and restaurants are supposed to do during the coronavirus pandemic. Mayor Brad Hart this week warned bars and restaurants about allowing customers to gather or drink on-site, which is barred by order of the governor, saying it could influence whether their liquor licenses get renewed by the city. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids bars and restaurants are being warned if they do not comply with orders designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus, it could cost them their liquor license when renewal time comes.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart issued the strong warning during a press briefing Thursday, noting the vast majority of bars and restaurants have been complying with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ orders to close to the public other than for carryout, but police have intervened in a handful of cases where violations were occurring.

One bar remains under investigation and could face charges.

“All of you, I want you to understand when your license comes up for renewal, the City Council is given information on any violation the license holder has received since the last renewal,” Hart said. “I am telling you that if there is a violation of orders in place during this pandemic that will play a really important role in my decision whether or not to support that renewal, so please continue to do the right thing.”

Liquor license renewals are typically routine matters that are approved in one sweeping vote, but the City Council does have the ability to scrutinize individual license requests, Hart said. Establishments selling alcohol on site must renew their license at least annually.

“This is not only dangerous but also not fair to liquor license holders who are doing the right thing,” Hart said of violations.

Local leaders have had little ability to go beyond the state order to combat the spread of the deadly COVID-19 — even in Linn County which leads the state with positive cases — but liquor licenses are one lever that can be pulled, Hart said.

Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman said officers have conducted more than 800 restaurant and bar compliance checks since the public health emergency proclamation last month.

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“On a few instances where violations are observed, officers have used it as an opportunity to educate those involved and to warn them, and in every situation they have complied with request of the officer,” Jerman said.

He noted no citations have been issued nor has there been any formal legal intervention, “although we are investigating seriously violations as they come to our attention.”

The Linn County attorney is reviewing one case but since the matter remains active and no formal charges have been issued, the name of the establishment is not being released, Jerman said.

In this case, the bar had several individuals who were being served alcohol during the time the state public health emergency proclamation was issued. Police have not sought charges in other cases, he said.

City officials are receiving pictures and messages of people congregating on patios and otherwise at establishments.

“One bar was warned about serving alcohol on the patio but stopped after they were warned,” said Greg Buelow, Cedar Rapids public safety spokesman. “Alcoholic drinks to go are allowed but can’t be consumed on site, and the patio at a bar is considered part of the bar property/site.”

Jerman noted the department will continue to assist in enforcement of orders as necessary, but added, “This should not and cannot become a police or law enforcement emergency. This is a public health emergency. This is about doing the right thing without having to be told to do so.”

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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