PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Four Rhode Island bars were forced to temporarily close on Monday after the state says they weren’t following COVID-19 regulations.
Tres Letras Hookah Lounge, Fish Co. Bar & Grill, Pregame Lounge all in Providence, and 7 Sisters La Cachimba Hookah Lounge in Cranston have all received Immediate Compliance Orders.
According to the compliance order, the four establishments are to be closed pending meetings with the R.I. Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Department of Business Regulation (DBR). Additionally, all employees of these businesses must be tested.
Inspectors say they found various violations at these businesses, “including bars being accessible after 11 p.m., mingling customers being served at bars, failure to maintain separation at bars, and employees and patrons not wearing masks.”
According to the state, restaurants can operate bars, but they must close by 11 p.m., and guests must be seated at bars with barriers between seated parties.
“We are taking a zero-tolerance approach when it comes to bars that, by blatantly flaunting Rhode Island’s COVID-19 requirements, are hurting the entire industry, are jeopardizing the safety of customers and communities, and are setting the whole state back in our work to prevent the spread of this virus,” Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said.
The owners of Fish Co. quickly disputed the state’s claims, insisting their employees were all wearing masks, contrary to the details in the state’s allegations.
The compliance order says as inspector visited Fish Co. at approximately 11:15 p.m on Oct. 3 and observed “at least six employees who were either not wearing a cloth face covering or were wearing them improperly. More specifically, the inspector observed two female and one male employees behind the bar who were improperly wearing the close face coverings below their chins.”
“Upon entry, the inspector also observed and overhead an employee telling those employees who were not wearing cloth face coverings to ‘put them on because inspectors are here.'”
Owner Frank Manfredi said the bar’s video surveillance shows the employees were wearing masks. A one minute 45 second video he provided to 12 News shows employees behind the bar inside wearing masks. The time stamp on the video starts at 11:08 p.m.
Manfredi said he was considering taking legal action against the state. He also questioned why, if the bar was creating an imminent health risk, it took nearly a week to serve them with the immediate compliance order and shut down.
“Why did they allow me to operate for six days if we were such a risk to public safety?” Manfredi said.
The order against Fish Co. also alleges there were people mingling inside — which is not allowed — and being served while standing at the bar area. Current state regulations requires parties to be seated at distanced tables in order to be served.
The state also claims the establishment was serving in its bar area after 11 p.m., which is not allowed. Manfredi disputes that, saying they were only serving people at tables and not at the bar.
Deep cleaning will be required at all four bars in addition to keeping contact information for guests, screening employees and guests for coronavirus symptoms, and ensuring mask-wearing and social distancing, according to the Health Department.
“To the businesses throughout Rhode Island that are serving customers in a way that is responsible, healthy, and safe, thank you,” Alexander-Scott continued. “To the businesses that are not, serious consequences can be expected.”
To file a complaint about a business, call (401) 889-5550 or visit taskforce.dbr.ri.gov.