Methuselah

Yuki Cohen, shown in her Methuselah Bar and Lounge, has been cited for a third time for COVID-19 health violations. She said she is being targeted by "frivolous" complaints.

PITTSFIELD — Methuselah Bar and Lounge has been fined $1,000 by the city for allegedly running afoul of two coronavirus safety standards, while the owner continues to protest that she is being targeted and said she will challenge the determination.

The city fined City Council member Yuki Cohen for not wearing a mask at Methuselah and “for customers sitting at the bar area without proper distancing,” said Mayor Linda Tyer. Cohen said she had closed her establishment to the public at the time, after 9 p.m. Dec. 11, and she was having a drink with her colleague and friend, likening the situation to being at her private residence.

“The bar was closed, doors locked, closed to the public, and I was having a beverage with a colleague, a close friend of mine,” she said. “It’s almost like being at home.”

Two $500 fines were issued. Senior Sanitarian Andy Cambi said the fines came after the city was sent a photograph Monday.

“My concern,” Cambi said, “is that the pictures showed a public place, specifically a restaurant establishment, and an employee not wearing their mask, facing customers, also not wearing a mask, sitting at the bar without the proper distance seen, as required right now for the restaurant standards.”

Cohen said she is obtaining an attorney who is not based in Pittsfield to represent her at an upcoming “show cause” hearing before the Licensing Board. That board’s chairman said he would call the hearing after City Council member Anthony Maffuccio, in a December council meeting, raised the issue of the written warning Cohen received from the city in late August.

Cohen launched a GoFundMe campaign in order to pay her attorney fees.

According to Cambi, the enforcement structure the city follows, as specified in the state’s sector-specific protocols, relies on complaints from the community, as “we don’t have the manpower to visit all of the establishments.”

“This feels really targeted, by the city, by Tony [Maffuccio],” Cohen said, adding that fellow restaurant owners also have been critical of her. “Are they trying to make an example? It’s done so much damage, my name has been damaged.”

Cohen said she incorrectly and unfairly has been blamed for the COVID-19 surge, and in a Tuesday Facebook post questioned whether the city’s “investigations [are] done uniformly” across small businesses, private gatherings and large companies alike.

“In the meantime,” she wrote, “if you agree/disagree with how I was treated and am being targeted, I ask you to please raise your voice.

For the single moms, the immigrants, for the minorities, for the ones who can’t defend themselves, for all of us. Call during open mic during city council, write to the editors of local newspapers, call/email your city councilor, all elected officials, write a comment below as I know they’re all reading this post.

Let all our voices be heard. Let us all know where you stand,” the post concluded.

Tyer said the city’s enforcement action came in response to a violation of workplace safety standards, and nothing else.

“What is currently underway here with Methuselah is not because she’s a city councilor. And it’s because there are violations of the workplace safety standards,” she said. “It’s happening because she’s an establishment owner, who has an obligation to comply with workplace safety standards, just like everybody else in her industry.”

The city has issued fines to at least four other restaurants for coronavirus violations, and fined establishments in other sectors for coronavirus safety violations, said Health Director Gina Armstrong. Tyer said the city and restaurants must work together to ensure that industry safety standards are followed, and that elected officials ought to lead by example.

“I do feel that an elected official ought to lead by example, and show how to comply with these state-issued workplace standards,” Tyer said. “I hold myself to a higher standard as an elected official, and I guess I extend that to other elected officials as well.”

Amanda Burke can be reached at aburke@berkshireeagle.com, on Twitter @amandaburkec

and 413-496-6296.

Amanda Burke covers Pittsfield City Hall for The Berkshire Eagle. An Ithaca, New York native, she previously worked at The Herald News of Fall River and the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise. Find her on Twitter at @amandaburkec.