Proof-of-Vaccination Policies Are on the Rise in New York City. They Can Come at a Cost.


JustJust over a year after opening its flagship brewery in Ridgewood, Queens, cult favorite Evil Twin expanded with a second location in Dumbo earlier this month. Unveiling a second bar was supposed to be a milestone for the decade-old brewery. Instead, it became a flash point for ongoing nationwide conversations around vaccine requirements and maskless indoor gatherings.

Shortly after the bar opened in early June, national review website the Infatuation published an article about the opening with the headline, “Evil Twin Opens a Vaccinated-Only Bar in Dumbo This Week.” Though the bar had already posted its vaccine-only policy to social media and “only got positive feedback,” according to owner Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, its Instagram accounts were flooded with comments in the days after the article appeared, with users labeling the decision discriminatory and vowing to boycott the brewery. (The headline and article have since been updated at Jarnit-Bjergsø’s request, he says.)

“It was painful to have to deal with all of this,” Jarnit-Bjergsø says. “The fact we opened as a vaccinated-only bar had nothing to do with us saying people who are not vaccinated are wrong.”

Despite the risk of sparking online controversy, proof-of-vaccination policies started to appear on the reservation pages and Instagram accounts of restaurants and bars across the city in May, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifted more restrictions, continuing the easing he’d begun earlier in the year with the expansion of indoor dining capacities. Most recently, he announced that New York would be adopting federal guidelines and easing mask-wearing and other regulations for vaccinated people that were put in place during the height of the pandemic.

Restaurants have quickly responded. The Peruvian hotspot Llama Inn started requiring either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours in order to dine indoors, according to information listed in its Resy profile. Hutong, an upscale Northern Chinese restaurant in Midtown East, also instituted the same requirements. Brooklyn restaurateur Andrew Tarlow of Diner and Roman’s has implemented similar rules at some of his establishments.

For some restaurant and bar owners, transforming indoor dining rooms into vaccine-only spaces has meant being able to return to pre-pandemic levels of business for the first time in over a year. Many restaurateurs had put their establishments into hibernation mode, while others only decided to offer indoor seating once they were allowed to fill their spaces at half capacity or a vaccine was more widely available.

“Both Friday and Saturday night [in early June] almost broke our overall sales records, even from pre-pandemic,” says the owner of a cocktail bar in the East Village, who requested anonymity in this article to prevent online backlash against the staff. “It was a packed, crowded dancing room... It was absolutely nuts. Vaccinated people are just so pumped to come inside and be normal.”

The owner claims that business at the bar has roughly quadrupled in the past two weeks as a result of checking for proof of vaccination, as patrons no longer need to be seated or socially distanced. The bar has an employee stationed at its entrance who checks for vaccine cards, an Excelsior pass, or a negative coronavirus test from the previous 72 hours; non-vaccinated people can sit at one of nine tables outdoors.