PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Methuselah Bar and Lounge is being fined $1,000 for two COVID-19 violations and the City Council voted to refer the tavern to the Licensing Board for a show cause hearing over multiple complaints submitted to the Board of Health.
Owner Yuki Cohen, also a councilor at large, told The Berkshire Eagle she will contest the fines.
Cohen insists she has not violated regulations put in place to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and said she is receiving hate mail claiming the tavern is the source of the recent outbreak in Pittsfield.
Methuselah was named as one of several locations to which positive cases were traced; Cohen had voluntarily closed for two weeks because of the COVID-19 exposure.
"I believe the proof is in the pudding and I am hoping that the numbers will speak for themselves," Cohen wrote in a Facebook post on Dec. 15. "I have requested reports of contact tracing and the number of cases that can be traced to their sources so I can analyze them and see if I'm living in denial. I am ready to see the truth in the numbers. I hope you will too."
The complaints recorded by the Board of Health were about capacity and failure to wear masks.
Aug. 22: A complaint of people sitting at the bar.
Oct. 27: A complaint about a Saturday night being very crowded, no masks, and staying open past 1 a.m.
Dec. 3: A complaint that Cohen was wearing a mask below her chin.
Dec. 14: A photo of Cohen with no mask facing customers who were not wearing masks at the bar without a protective barrier.
Methuselah's liquor license was suspended for five days for overcapacity in 2018. iBerkshires.com was told of one night when patrons said they drank alcoholic beverages without ordering food, that the bar was overcapacity, and that a number of people were walking around with no masks on.
Cohen feels that she is being unfairly persecuted after the last City Council meeting at which Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio submitted the petition that will send her to the Licensing Board.
Maffuccio said he believes that Cohen is being protected by the council after other restaurants that were reported for violations such as Proprietor's Lodge and Zucchini's received suspensions from the Licensing Board. Several other establishments have also been fined.
Some of the complaints lodged with the Board of Health were accompanied by images; in her Dec. 15 Facebook post, Cohen said the images in question were taken in an instant in time and are misleading, adding that the investigation feels like a personal attack.
"I am not sure what is going on, but this is a dangerous precedent," she wrote. "Whether you are cheering this violation, If it can happen to me (with the special treatment some of you think I'm getting), you too can be slapped with a fine you can't afford after you have been ravaged by the coronavirus' impact on your business. You too can be found guilty from a picture that could have been taken anywhere at anytime and completely taken out of context. Or if you have a beef with anyone, no problem, just forward a picture anonymously and no questions asked, they will be found guilty."
In response to the fines and the impact of COVID-19, Cohen arranged a "Methuselah Staying Alive Fund" on the crowdsourcing website GoFundMe. Cohen aimed to raise $2,500 and has surpassed that goal, raising more than $4,500.