CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Tuesday, during a hearing Ohio state officials said Highland Tavern in Akron has no regard for COVID-19 regulations.
The business picked up a fourth citation from the liquor board this holiday weekend.
Investigators said they saw many violations dealing with masks and social distancing, because the rules are a little tougher for businesses to enforce.
In this case though, officials said the violation is perhaps more concerning, because there was apparently no attempt at all to follow the easiest rule -- an early last call.
“Rule 80 is much more cut and dry. If you’re selling after 10 o’clock, you’re in violation," assistant Attorney General Joe Schmansky said.
Highland Tavern is the first business to face the state’s Liquor Control Commission for violating the governor’s mandated early last call.
“They are essentially thumbing their nose about the rule,” Schmansky said.
Undercover agents recorded their three visits to the Akron bar in August.
“It was clear they had no regard for any of the new rules,” one of them told Schmansky during testimony Tuesday.
In addition to serving alcohol past the deadline, officers with the Ohio Investigative Unit said they found exactly what complaints against the business had described-- people shoulder to shoulder and almost no one in masks, including bartenders.
“They are not socially distancing and then you can see the bottles,” the agent said.
In defending the bar before the liquor control commission, attorney Mark Gutentag asked why any of this is a problem, when high school and college athletes are allowed to play contact sports.
“Im just kind of curious as to why that’s okay, but you have to wear a mask in a bar,” he said.
A representative from the health department answered by saying that regardless of what others are doing, the conditions in Highland Tavern on Aug. 3, 6 and 22 were creating a high risk of spreading COVID 19.
“Definitely. From what I can see there are very few, if any masks being worn, and have not seen any attempt at social distancing,” he said.
Gutentag said the business cleaned up its act after receiving the first three citations. He says he sent pictures to the county of all the changes they’d made.
“They’re just pictures of the bar with tape on the ground, signs on the wall, signs on the door, the hand sanitizing station,” Gutentag said.
Though making an effort to comply, Gutentag said Highland Tavern was struggling to stay afloat financially.
The business apparently made the decision to continue going against the state’s mandated closing time, picking up a fourth citation Friday, Sept. 4 at 11:25 p.m.
“We did go back this weekend, and they weren’t obeying the health order because we did cite them again,” an agent told Schmansky.
“The bar is now closed, because they just can’t make ends meet,” Gutentag said.
We called Highland Tavern for comment Tuesday afternoon, and no one answered the phone.
That fourth citation was not discussed in depth Tuesday.
It will be on the docket for another time.
It’s now up to the liquor control commission to rule on the current cases heard today, and then hand down any penalties.
We’ll keep you updated on this case, and any others that come up in this area.