New Jersey

NJ Restaurant in Trouble for 500-Person ‘Quarantine Release' Party That Violated COVID Rules

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A South Jersey restaurant allegedly violated social distancing requirements and state pandemic restrictions when it hosted more than 500 people for a large Independence Day party, officials say.

Il Portico Ristorante in Burlington City had its liquor license suspended - and could have it revoked - following the party, according to a news release from New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

According to documents filed in state court, the restaurant advertised a "quarantine release party" that began the night of July 3 and continued into the early hours of July 4.

They even had a DJ, according to the documents.

The state agencies say of the July party:

  • several patrons were not wearing masks
  • customers were served outside business hours
  • alcohol was served inside, at a time when indoor drinking/dining was not allowed
  • the restaurant had an expanded permit to serve customers outside on a deck. But customers were also served in outdoor areas beyond what was allowed in that permit.
  • Police received several calls about the establishment, including a call about a fight

There were so many people that the Burlington City police department had to call New Jersey State Police for backup to disperse the crowd. Court documents say security guards were letting people in because they had purchased tickets to the event.

Il Portico's capacity limit was 49 people at the time.

The party landed the restaurant in hot water with the state ABC, who sought to suspend the bar's liquor license for 145 days. But that would have to be worked out in legal proceedings; in the meantime, Il Portico could continue operating.

Then, during a follow-up visit on Aug. 14, investigators again found people drinking inside, resulting in more charges for Il Portico. Its liquor and outdoor licenses were temporarily suspended for two weeks beginning Aug. 22.

The ABC also wants to revoke Il Portico's liquor license - but that is subject to legal proceedings too. The owners are entitled to a hearing before the 145-day suspension or license revocation will take effect.

"We will not allow our State’s reopening efforts to be compromised by bar and restaurant owners who conduct themselves with disregard for the laws and regulations of this State," Grewal said in a news release.

ABC Acting Director James Graziano said the restaurant "failed to meet even the minimum standards of reasonable and responsible operation required of an alcoholic beverage licensee."

"ABC requires licensees to conform to the requirements of the permits allowing them to operate outdoors during the public health crisis," Graziano added. "Those that fail to do so will lose that privilege."

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