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Restaurateurs look ahead to spring dining

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To say it has been a long year for Bellmore and Merrick’s restaurant owners would be an understatement. The industry, which faced forced closures to stop the spread of Covid-19 around this time last year, still faces hurdles: Long Island establishments must close by 11 p.m., but can now seat customers at 75 percent capacity.

The loosened restriction on the maximum capacity for indoor dining began March 19, according to a news release from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Beginning April 5, the 11 p.m. curfew for casinos, movie theaters, bowling alleys, billiards halls, gyms and fitness centers will be lifted, but it will remain for food and beverage establishments.

The 11 p.m. curfew will be evaluated in late April, according to a March 17 release.

“We’re grateful, but there are a lot of onerous policies that are still affecting us, most namely the curfew,” said John Amaruso, owner of Bourbon & Brews in Merrick. “An 11 p.m. curfew seems a little arbitrary. If you’re serving people safely at 8 p.m., why can’t you serve them safely at 1 a.m.? It really makes no difference.”

Despite the support that has kept Bourbon & Brews afloat, the spot took a hit under previous restrictions of 50 percent capacity and a 10 p.m. curfew. They rely on late-night crowds, but those guests must be “arbitrarily turned away” once the curfew hits, Amaruso said.

American Beauty Bar & Grill in Bellmore was forced to close late last year and accept only private events because of declining revenue. Maria Cassano, who owns the business with her husband, Michael, and business partner, Skip Curth, said she hopes to fully reopen by April 1.

“The 75 percent capacity certainly helps,” Cassano said. “Now with the increase, we’re able to do private events on top of regular business — and on top of other events that we want to bring back, like Drag Queen Bingo and Hip-Hop Brunch. This will help immensely.”

The Bellmore location of American Beauty is bigger than its sister counterpart, American Beauty Bistro in Massapequa, also owned by Cassano, making it the preferred spot for their usually popular events.

“Everyone is just in a celebratory mood,” Cassano said of guests whom she has recently served. “There’s a lightness in the air — it feels like a bit of normalcy — and I think everyone is craving that.”

Anthony’s Kitchen and Cocktails enjoyed a grand opening amid the pandemic in August. Owner Anthony Brew said it’s a “good conversation piece” when he tends to diners.

Brew sees the loosened restriction as a step in the right direction. He was able to place more seating around the establishment’s indoor bar, and a new outdoor patio with 20 extra seats is ready for the warmer weather.

“It’s been a long year,” Brew said. “People are stuck at the house and not looking to rush home.”

“In spite of everything, the support has been amazing,” Amaruso said. “We’re grateful for the business that we have, but we can always do better.”