BRISTOL – About a dozen people gathered in front of Legends Sports Bar in Forestville Friday afternoon to protest the bar being shut down due to violations of state mandated covid-19 restrictions.
Some protestors waved American flags and wore costume elements, such as a full body hazmat suit, to make their point to cars passing on Pine Street. A man others identified as Jonathan Johnson, founder of CT Liberty Rally which organized the protest, was continually shouting into a megaphone lines like “…if you do not live in a nursing home it has a 99% survival rate…”
Aaron McCool of Naugatuck, who said he was not part of CT Liberty Rally but encouraged people to protest, said “we’re here for freedom.”
“The governor has overreached his power. We met the demands of the state of emergency in May. We should have ended the state of emergency, the lockdowns should end. If he comes after Legends and shuts down this business he’s going to come after you and me next, if we don’t stand with our neighbors,” said McCool, who said he is not a regular at Legends but has stopped by sometimes. “We hope to show the public that we can’t allow the would-be king, the governor, to continue to rule by executive edit. We’re supposed to have three co-equal branches of government, the legislature is supposed to write laws, the governor is supposed to enforce them.” he said.
McCool said he chases the governor wherever he appears in public and is one of a group of people who are at the governor’s mansion almost every week to protest.
“I’m certainly concerned about Covid, no one is saying the virus isn’t real, but the virus isn’t going away. We have to learn to live with that,” he said.
Legends owner Marc Leboeuf said he thought it was “good to see there’s people in support of myself and small business owners in Connecticut.”
Unlike the protesters, Leboeuf was wearing a bandana as a mask. “Well I don’t represent them,” he said.
On Nov. 13, a team of Bristol-Burlington Health District agents conducting spot inspections in the city went to Legends after 10 p.m., the mandated closure time. They reported they saw patrons crowding the bar, no six foot spacing or plexi barriers between parties, and other violations.
They shut down the bar and, based on their referral, the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection’s Liquor Control Division suspended the bar’s liquor permit indefinitely. It was the second establishment that has had its liquor permit suspended recently, the first was Dixwell Social Lounge in Hamden on Nov. 6.
“I don’t think it’s fair that they shut me down,” Leboeuf said. “I want to start by apologizing to Marco Palmeri [health district director] and the Bristol Burlington Health District for what they thought was sarcasm. I was just passionate about my business and being closed down.”
The agents’ report says there were approximately 45 patrons in Legends at 10:12 p.m. many of whom were crowding the bar. The report said that over the past few weeks several emails were sent to establishments serving alcohol in Bristol and Burlington to notify owners regarding the mandated 10 p.m. closure.
“At the time of the inspection the owner stated he ‘doesn’t check his email,’” the report said. “He was sarcastic and when confronted about the violations the BBHD agents observed he stated he is ‘trying to make a living.’ He offered the BBHD agents pizza and martinis and told them they should try to be less serious.”
Leboeuf said he thought the situation got blown out of proportion. “It’s tough enough to make it in this business when it’s 100% occupancy, never mind if it’s 50% occupancy and you have to close at 9:30, plus being closed for the pandemic for the two months prior. It was almost impossible to even get back on my feet to give it a second try but I did and was doing decent until this happened.”
He said he is in the process of working things out with the health district and the state.
“I want to reiterate that our goal with the sector rules enforcement is not to be punitive,” said Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, in response to the protest. She is currently in quarantine due to having been potentially exposed to covid-19.
“The Bristol Burlington Health District sent out a series of reminders, warnings, and best practices over the course of the last two weeks to all restaurants -- as well as bars serving food -- in order to help them understand the rules and to stay open,” she said. “It is unfortunate that some businesses are not following the sector rules and are causing a risk situation for the community.”
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.