BY EVERYNIGHT CHARLEY CRESPO | Alarmed musicians and music lovers reacted immediately and strongly to the news last week that City Winery would begin conducting mandatory COVID tests on its customers, with a charge of $50.
While this basic information is true, it lacks the details that explain that the test is a pilot program and will be enforced on two out of seven days each week, and perhaps only for a limited time.
Starting Tues., Nov. 24, diners at the new City Winery must test for coronavirus upon entry on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. A certified health professional will administer a shallow nasal swab, and the testing company will charge each patron $50. All City Winery employees also will take this test before entering the venue, in order to ensure that everyone on the premises was tested on those days. This rapid-test policy is expected to continue on Tuesdays and Wednesdays through the end of 2020.
“We believe that hospitality is all about making our customers comfortable and, given the pandemic, that starts with feeling safe,” reads an announcement posted on the place’s Web site. “With the change of the seasons, finding the next level of safety for people to dine indoors is critical. With that in mind, we are launching a pilot program of rapid COVID-19 testing.”
Customers will wait in the reception area for the test results, and the City Winery staff will serve the guests a glass of City Winery Bubbles. Within 10 to 15 minutes, the health professional will reveal the results. If the result is negative, the guest will enter, mask in place, and continue to practice all proper socially distanced protocols. If the test is positive, City Winery will offer a PCR test sent to a partnered CLIA lab, to confirm the results in 24 hours, but the individual will not be permitted to enter the premises.
Since the initial announcement a week ago, City Winery’s new rapid-test policy has been a frequent topic of conversation among live-music circles. Many musicians and music lovers are not objecting to being tested but rather to the test’s cost. City Winery’s announcement assures its patrons that 100 percent of the fee will go to the testing company.
“The testing kits, machines and certified nurse is costing us about $60 per person, and yet we are charging $50,” explained Michael Dorf, the C.E.O. and founder of the City Winery chain of restaurants and music venues. “Add to that, my 40 staff members getting tested Tuesday morning; that is $2,000 out-of-pocket. I really wish these tests were $10 each or free or, even better, paid for by our insurance company or by New York State or Trump, someone other than me and our customers.”
At City Winery, the mandatory rapid test for customers is a pilot program, which explains why it is currently being conducted only two days per week. A later review will determine whether to expand or abandon the program in 2021.
“We have sold out totally for all our dinner reservations this week, which is the first time since opening,” Dorf added. “Clearly, this has been a home run for some people. It sucks that some people cannot afford it and I am very torn about that. On balance, this might be indicative of a solution to balancing out safety with doing business from now until the vaccine is in enough people’s arms that we get societal herd immunity and it is safe out and restrictions are lifted.
“If we can bridge between now and then, ideally bringing the cost of testing down a lot, it is the best solution to moving forward,” he said. “So, we are testing this week. Let us hope a philanthropist steps in and underwrites it for the bridge or prices come down soon. We need to stay open, we need to stop the spread, and we need to find a way to get the micro economy of the live entertainment world working again. We are trying.”
City Winery has enforced other safety protocols since its mid-October opening on Pier 57 (25 11th Ave. at W. 15th St.). The welcoming staff, always masked, take the temperature and conduct a wellness survey on all patrons upon entry. Once inside, masked staff members escort the patrons to tables that are set a minimum of 8 feet apart. All waitstaff wear masks and gloves. These safety practices will continue every day.
Patrons who come to City Winery for the live music likely will not be impacted by the new rapid-test requirement. Live music is usually presented on Thursdays through Sundays. All of these are nights on which the rapid test will not be administered.
The larger question, which remains unanswered, is whether rapid testing will become the new normal. Will other establishments, from sidewalk cafes to sports arenas, adopt a similar policy?