Wallenwein’s Hotel had its busiest day in nine months last Saturday, when the East Aurora restaurant filled its parking lot for an energetic Bills playoff game watch party.
It planned a repeat this weekend.
Instead, owner Ben Holmes spent Thursday calling guests to cancel their reservations.
He called off his “Picnic in the Parking Lot” because the state refused to lift its 10 p.m. dining curfew Saturday night.
"It was the best day we had at the restaurant since Good Friday," Holmes said. "I'm definitely disappointed we can't have this parking lot party.”
The state’s decision to keep the rule in effect means restaurants and bars will have to kick out customers well before the end of the Baltimore Ravens game, which starts at 8:15 p.m. and won't end until 11:30 or later.
Being at Bills Stadium won't even make a difference to fans who scored tickets to the game Saturday. The curfew applies to concession stands there, too, which also will have to shut down at 10 p.m., per state guidance.
State Supreme Court Justice Henry J. Nowak on Wednesday granted the restaurants' request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from enforcing the Covid-19 restriction.
Restaurant owners remain frustrated despite a State Supreme Court ruling this week that prompted Albany to allow all restaurants in Erie County and other “orange zones” to reopen for indoor dining with limited capacity.
"With the game, you can't get an 8 o'clock reservation and throw the person out at 10. You can't feed people nice in two hours,” said Russell Salvatore, the veteran restaurateur, who won't reopen his Russell's Steaks, Chops and More dining room until Wednesday as he lines up employees and inventory.
Local business owners and officials had asked the Cuomo administration to ease the curfew for Saturday’s prime-time divisional playoff game.
But a state Health Department spokesman told The Buffalo News the state is keeping the curfew in effect as a Covid-19 safety precaution.
“The fact is the CDC has specifically pointed to indoor dining as a higher-risk activity, and this policy is a common-sense way to reduce the risk of exposure," Health Department spokesman Jeffrey Hammond said in an email, referring to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "As much as we feel for restaurants in Buffalo, and as much as we want to let fans watch the game at bars, we won’t sacrifice public health.”
The rule requiring all restaurants in New York to stop on-premises dining between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. went into effect on Nov. 11. The venues can remain open during that time for curbside pickup and delivery of food, but not alcohol.
The decision by the Cuomo administration makes impractical a repeat of last weekend's "Playoffs on the Patios," a wild-card game viewing party for 270 fans that took over a block of Chippewa Street in downtown Buffalo, organizers said.
"I'm surprised. I'm disappointed. It defies logic," said Soho Buffalo owner Jay Manno, who helped pull together last Saturday's event and who praised the support of city and county officials. "I mean, is the virus more contagious at 10:15, or 11?"
The decision from the governor's office came after a State Supreme Court justice in Buffalo ruled in favor of a group of restaurants suing to protest the state's Covid-19 regulations that ban indoor dining in orange zones.
Justice Henry Nowak granted a preliminary injunction preventing the state from enforcing the indoor-dining ban in orange zones, and it initially applied just to the dozens of restaurants involved in the legal challenge.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz on Thursday morning announced he would apply the decision to all of the county's orange zone restaurants, and then the state later announced it would apply to all orange zone restaurants in New York for now.
So that means those Erie County restaurants, which had been limited to outdoor dining or takeout, can open for indoor dining Saturday night, but they must close at 10 p.m., while the game is still being played.
Soho Buffalo has been closed for a couple of months, except for last Saturday's watch party, and will remain closed, Manno said. He said he doesn't think restaurants will benefit from the lifting of the orange zone restrictions while the curfew remains in effect for the Ravens game.
"I think everybody will be out of restaurants by 8 o'clock," Manno said, or they'll stick around for the first two quarters before making a "mad rush" home at halftime.
"That's the best-case scenario," he said.
Britesmith Brewing in Williamsville will have outdoor dining at its beer garden on Saturday, but won't bother opening the dining room, said owner David Schutte, who said his Creekview and Oliver's restaurants also will operate for takeout-only that night.
"We're very doubtful we'll get many guests in even if we were going to open up indoors because of the 10 o'clock curfew. They're going to have to leave in the third quarter," said Schutte, who plans to reopen the three dining rooms Tuesday.
“This is the most pumped the city has been in 25 years,” one fan said.
Wallenwein’s Holmes said he had 26 of 33 tables booked for Saturday night’s event and knew he would sell out easily.
Each table was $150 for a group of four and included a large pizza, 40 wings and 16 beers.
“I'm going to spend my day calling people and refunding people, and also cleaning out the dining room and getting 33 folding tables and 140 chairs out of there,” Holmes said.