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SFPD Admonishes Marina Bar After Viral Photos of Packed Sidewalk and Maskless Drinkers

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The owner of Howell’s says he didn’t know the sidewalk in front of his bar was so crowded

This tweeted photo by San Francisco journalist David Lytle depicts the seemingly non-sheltering-in-place crowd in front of Howell’s, a Marina District bar.
David Lytle/Twitter

The tweets spread like, well, you know this past Friday night: David Lytle, a local journalist who once edited 7x7 magazine, captured two images of San Francisco’s Chestnut Street, crowded with patrons at the area’s bars and restaurants.

One photo depicted throngs of folks, many unmasked as they stood far less than six feet apart outside Howell’s, a Marina wine bar that, during the current dining room closure, offers wine and charcuterie or cheese boards to go.

Next door to Howell’s is Cultivar, another wine bar that — per its website — offers curbside takeout. Based on the video above, also captured by Lytle, many people were indeed at the curb of Cultivar and Howell’s Friday evening, enough that, KQED reports, officers with the San Francisco Police Department responded to the scene, and “admonished Howell’s bar for not complying with SF’s health order.” The cops also “forwarded a report to the City Attorney,” which makes sense: That’s the agency that has joined the police in the local charge against businesses that violate San Francisco’s shelter-in-place rules, most recently cracking down on an illicit Bayview nightclub and an alleged “illegal party” in a Dogpatch venue.

As opposed to being angry about the enforcement action, Howell’s co-founder Nate Welch says that he’s grateful to the SFPD for coming by. “We can only control the small square footage of space in front of us,” he tells NBC Bay Area, “So if someone is ten feet down the way and they decide to stop while they’re drinking a to-go margarita or something like that, I have no control over that. So luckily the San Francisco Police came around to disperse that.”

Welch also tells KRON 4 that the crowds weren’t his fault, saying, “I think we were blamed for it, we were really not part of it. We just happened to be open at the time.” In fact, he says, he wasn’t even aware of the unmasked masses, as “I can’t tell from here what’s going on down there or what’s going on over there. I can only see this narrow storefront.”

The pleasant weather Friday night likely contributed to the situation, as Peter Palmer, a staffer at California Wine Merchant (yet another Chestnut Street wine bar) tells ABC 7 that Friday “was definitely the busiest I’ve seen on Chestnut Street,” perhaps because “people are champing at the bit, and knowing Monday a lot of places are going to be opening.” Palmer wasn’t referring to restaurant dining rooms, of course: San Francisco has yet to set a reopening day for sit-down service, and with statewide metrics that require counties to record no deaths from COVID-19 and less than one active infection per 10,000 residents, it’ll be a while before we get there.

Palmer likely meant that Monday, May 18, is the day that curbside pickup will be allowed for retail establishments that since March 16 have been closed by the city’s health order. According to Dr. Grant Colfax, the city will be closely monitoring infection rates once that regulation is relaxed, as an increase in the spread of coronavirus could put off additional reopenings — like those of restaurants’ dine-in service — even longer than expected.

District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani, whose constituency includes the scofflaw blocks, tells NBC Bay Area that “the fact that people weren’t wearing masks, and they were so cluttered together, I’m like oh my god no. It was very upsetting.” She says that she’s called upon SFPD “to expand enforcement if people continue violating safety rules,” and it sounds like the police complied: according to people on Union Street who spoke to ABC 7, this weekend, police were out with loudspeakers telling groups to disperse and “giving out warnings to people not carrying masks on themselves.”

Saturday night, NBC notes, SFPD vehicles were parked prominently along Chestnut, and there were no crowds to be found. A photographer with the Associated Press confirmed to Eater SF that there were few people out on the streets of the Marina or Cow Hollow on Sunday, and that “it doesn’t seem that bad out there, not really.”

But according to Palmer, those crowds might return soon, as he says that “people are kind of getting revved up to get out there.” Palmer’s assessment might be confirmed by Jason Escamilla, who admits to being one of the folks in the Chestnut crowd Friday night. Speaking with KRON 4, he says that “I have to admit it was excessive but there was a part of me that was happy for people finally being out after so many months.”

Though the photo and video might alarm some, Escamilla urges perspective about the incident, saying, “There’s a lot of things that happen in this city that are dangerous.” Instead, he says, people should view the gathering as just “an extreme version of basically people just being out and seeing their friends.” Friday was the second-deadliest day of the pandemic in California, as 107 people across the state died of the virus, the San Jose Mercury News reports. As of Monday morning, San Francisco has 2,131 reported cases, and 36 people have died.


2373 Chestnut Street, San Francisco,