Photos showing a bustling patio at a popular Atlanta pizzeria over the weekend are calling into question whether the restaurant — and city and Beltline officials — are doing enough to prevent people from congregating in public outdoor spaces during the COVID-19 crisis.
The photos were taken by photojournalist Ryan Vizzions of people walking in groups along the Eastside Beltline and standing on the patio at Nina & Rafi. The images, taken Saturday, April 4, and posted to Vizzions’ Twitter account, quickly made the rounds on social media, with some questioning whether the restaurant at SPX Alley and city officials are taking enough precautions to discourage people from gathering publicly.
These are exactly the images that cause health care workers even more grief, as they risk their lives to treat patients & then return home only to have to quarantine themselves from their loved ones in their basements & garages. https://t.co/N0A7eGyIrS— Bee Nguyen (@BeeForGeorgia) April 5, 2020
A statewide shelter-in-place order is now in effect until April 13, and prohibits public gatherings of more than ten people, except for members of a single household.
The photo of Nina & Rafi taken over the weekend appears to show people drinking pints of beer at tables in front of the restaurant. A temporary law, signed by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on March 20, allows city restaurant, breweries, and brewpubs to sell unopened bottles and cans of wine and beer to go for 60 days.
Vizzions says he took the photograph of Nina & Rafi at 6:02 p.m. on Saturday evening while out documenting the COVID-19 pandemic on the Eastside Beltline. “There may have been a couple of people (1-2) scattered in front of other businesses on the long strip, but the only group gathering I saw was the one in the photo.”
In addition to Nina & Rafi, beer bar Pour Taproom, Hawkers Asian Street Fare, Playa Bowls, and Bennett’s Market remain open at the complex. Guac y Margys, the James Room, and Butter and Cream are closed.
Billy Streck, co-owner of Nina & Rafi, tells Eater Atlanta the restaurant has not served people in the dining room or on the patio since March 17, and that some of the remaining outdoor tables cannot “physically” be removed.
“The patio is now completely roped off. We’re serving unopened beer and wine to be consumed off-premise, and we have X’s on the ground marking where guests should stand away from each other,” Streck says in an email. “After ordering, we ask guests to leave the property so that we can text them and let them know when their food is ready to be picked up.”
Eater reached back out to Streck to ask why the area was not cordoned off previously, and to inquire whether the beers seen in Vizzions’ photograph were from Nina & Rafi or a nearby establishment.
The Eastside portion of BeltLine and its restaurants and bars often see larger crowds on sunny weekends. Restaurants along the trail have been forced to self-police people waiting for orders from gathering — with limited staff — and do not appear to have been provided with further safety resources from the Atlanta police department or the city. All businesses and complexes along the trail can still be accessed from surrounding streets.
A Change.org petition using one of Vizzions’ photos calls for Bottoms to close the Beltline. It currently lists over 6,800 signatures. The petition echoes similar calls to the mayor from members of the public and some Atlanta city councilpersons.
“BeltLine trail usage numbers continue to decrease, showing that efforts to stagger trail traffic and stress social distancing are resonating,” the mayor’s press secretary Michael Smith says. “The Mayor continues to monitor the BeltLine and consult with public health professionals on a daily basis. The BeltLine is a transportation corridor that provides critical connections to essential services for residents.”
Smith states that if residents continue to practice social distancing and avoid peak hours, the city will have no need to close the trail to the public. However, if those usage numbers begin to increase, “adjustments—including limiting hours or closing the trail altogether—will be made accordingly.”
Residents can call 311, the number for non-emergency services in Atlanta, to report businesses violating the order. It’s unclear how violations to the statewide order are enforced, as it overrides similar orders previously in place from cities and counties across Georgia.
Eater has reached out to Beltline.org for comment on the petition and the photographs.
Update, April 6, 2:30 p.m.: This story was updated with comments from the mayor’s office regarding Beltline usage during the pandemic.
Please practice safe and respectful social distancing measures via CDC guidelines by maintaining a distance of at least six feet from other people. Stay home if sick. Check the Georgia Department of Public Health website for guidance and twice-daily updates on the latest number of reported COVID-19 cases.