By Louise Witt
Hours after the owner of the Tashmoo Restaurant & Bar reassured Morristown’s business administrator Friday night that health safety precautions were in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, more than a hundred patrons, many without masks, crowded into an outdoor area with a live band.
After neighbors of the Dehart Street bar posted photos and comments on social media of what looked like a beer garden in the parking lot behind the Woman’s Club of Morristown, the town shut down the establishment around 9 p.m. and revoked its approval for outdoor expansion.
Jillian Barrick, the town’s business administrator, told MorristownGreen.com that she had spent much of Friday going over details of Tashmoo’s expansion plan with Billy Walsh, the bar’s owner.
Even so, Tashmoo’s managers did not comply with the agreed upon plan, according to Barrick.
“I would say I was disappointed,” Barrick said. “I wanted to work with him to make the plan a success like any other business in town. But we can’t have violations of the governor’s executive order.
“There were so many people without masks and they weren’t social distancing. It’s not safe for the patrons nor the residents of our town.”
Members of the Walsh family who oversee the family’s restaurants and bars in town didn’t immediately return calls asking for comment.
“Happy with the reopening, but this makes me nervous, should be smaller crowd, more social distancing and more masks,” one person posted on Instagram, commenting on the crowded scene at the outdoor bar. “Do we really want to go back to where we were?”
Barrick said Walsh assured her Friday the bar would comply with the governor’s executive order setting out guidelines on how bars and restaurants could safely open outdoor areas during the pandemic.
The administrator wanted to make sure Tashmoo didn’t violate health safety precautions like it did Thursday evening with patrons not following social-distancing protocols and not wearing protective masks.
As part of the state’s Stage 2 reopening guidelines, Barrick reviewed Tashmoo’s plan with Walsh to space dining tables six feet apart, only offer table service, limit the capacity to 100 customers, provide employees with masks, as well as other health safety measures.
Tashmoo’s application also made no mention of live music, she said.
Barrick said Walsh was at Tashmoo, when she left around 5 p.m. Friday. She didn’t know why he didn’t make sure employees adhered to those plans later that evening.
“I don’t know what his intentions were,” she said. “He didn’t want to anger the neighbors and he wanted to follow the rules and comply with the executive order, but clearly that didn’t happen.”
Robert Iannaccone, council member representing the First Ward, where Tashoo is located, said he asked the town administration to review all expansion applications.
Tashmoo’s application was the only one he hadn’t received. Iannaccone said at a recent council meeting that he also requested outdoor bars and restaurants aren’t allowed to have live music.
“Jillian is working with the restaurants and bars and she has done a very good job,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. This [application] would have been flagged.”
Barrick said she didn’t have a chance to give the council members a copy, since she was working with Walsh right up until the bar opened Friday night.
In the last two weeks, Barrick said she has reviewed and approved dozens are applications from operators of bars and restaurants who want to set up outdoor facilities.
Iannaccone said Tashmoo’s neighbors didn’t complain about the bar’s noise. Instead, residents were concerned about patrons not practicing social distancing and not wearing masks.
“Community Place people are very tolerant,” he said. “Everyone wasn’t to help where they can help. There’s a sense of community and they are more than happy with work with business.”
On Saturday, the town reissued its guidelines in accordance with Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 150. Barrick said the town clarified that capacity of the outdoor establishments won’t exceed capacity of their indoor bars and restaurants.
The town also emphasized that servers must provide patrons with table service.
Barrick said the town clarified that capacity of the outdoor establishments won’t exceed capacity of their indoor bars and restaurants.
“We want all of Morristown’s businesses to succeed into the future and will continue to do our best to support those efforts,” the statement said.
“But we must ensure the safety and welfare of our residents and visitors first and will not tolerate any business that does not work with us to achieve that goal.”
After the town shut down Tashmoo, Karen Ann Kurlander, first vice president of the Woman’s Club of Morristown, said her board called an emergency meeting Saturday to discuss the incident. The club is renting the parking lot to the bar on a week-to-week basis.
“We held an emergency board meeting to figure out what’s going on and how to work with the town,” she said. “We wanted everyone on the board to know the facts of what happened this week.”
A Walsh representative assured the board that Tashmoo would be able to meet the town’s more specific guidelines, Kurlander said. The original ones were vague.
She also said the club’s president was present at the outdoor bar Friday night and observed employees turning away customers to ensure the area wasn’t crowded.
The board also reviewed drone footage posted on Instagram showing that most patrons were social distanced in small groups around the parking lot. While many weren’t wearing masks, that’s not a requirement.
Customers are asked to wear masks before they are seated, but can take them off to eat and drink.
“It would be extremely hard to eat a hamburger with a mask on,” Kurlander said.
The Woman’s Club decided to rent its parking lot to Tashmoo to raise funds for its charities. Due to the pandemic, the organization had to cancel its spring luncheon, its flea market and its rummage sale and its highly likely it will have to cancel its holiday bazaar.