Lines Never Felt So Good: Crowds Announce New York’s Reopening
The queue outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art crawled out the door, down the rain-swept stairs, around trees, and past the fountain and hot dogs on Fifth Avenue as visitors waited under dripping umbrellas . They were among more than 10,000 like-minded people on how to fill a rainy Sunday in New York City, making it the museum’s busiest holiday weekend since the pandemic began.
In Greenwich Village, jazz fans lined up to enter Smalls, a dimly lit basement club with a low ceiling where they could bump their heads and stomp their feet to listen to live music. All five limited-capacity screenings of Fellini’s “8 ½” sold out at the Houston Street Film Forum on Monday, and when the Comedy Cellar sold five shows, it added a sixth.
If the rainy and cool Memorial Day weekend meant barbecues and beach trips were called off, it revived a different kind of rainy day tradition in New York City: lining up to see art, listening to music and watching movies, in a way that seemed liberating after more. one year from the pandemic. The growing number of vaccinated New Yorkers, coupled with the recent easing of many coronavirus restrictions, resulted in a dramatic and happy change from Memorial Day last year, when museums were strangely empty, nightclubs were silenced and the faded and obsolete posters slowly yellowing outside the shutters. cinemas.
For 18-year-old Piper Barron, the return to the movies seemed surprisingly normal.
“I felt like the pandemic hadn’t happened,” she said.
Standing under the marquee of Cobble Hill Cinemas in Brooklyn, Barron and three friends who had just finished high school were waiting to see “Cruella”, Emma Stone’s new movie about the villainous “One Hundred and One Dalmatians”. Before the pandemic, the group used to see films together on Fridays after school, but this tradition was put on hold during the pandemic.
“We haven’t done this for a long time – but we are there,” said Patrick Martin, 18. “This is an important step.”
In recent weeks, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has relaxed many of the coronavirus restrictions that limit culture and entertainment, and Memorial Day weekend was one of the first opportunities for venues to try out the new rules, with an increasing number of tourists and new vaccinated. Yorkers look forward to a summer of activity.
At the Met, Saturday and Sunday each drew more than 10,000 visitors, a record for the museum during the pandemic, and about double what it saw two months ago, before the state loosened capacity restrictions , said Kenneth Weine, a spokesperson for the museum. .
Despite the almost constant rain, museum visitors and moviegoers alike agreed it was way better than anything they did over Memorial Day weekend last year. (“Nothing, I just stayed home,” recalls Sharon Lebowitz, who visited the Met on Sunday with her brother.)
Of course, the pandemic isn’t over yet: an average of 383 cases per day are reported in New York City, but that’s a 47% decrease from the average two weeks ago. And there were physical reminders of the pandemic everywhere. At Cobble Hill Cinemas, there were temperature controls and a guarantee that each seat occupied would have four empty seats around it. At the Met, a member of security staff asked visitors queuing for the popular Alice Neel exhibit to stand out from one another.
And, everywhere, there were masks, although Mr Cuomo lifted the indoor mask mandate for people who were vaccinated in most cases earlier this month. Most of the city’s museums maintain mask rules for now, recognizing that not all visitors would be comfortable being surrounded by a sea of naked faces.
“Everything is certainly not back to normal,” said Steven Ostrow, 70, who was examining Cypriot antiques at the Met.
“If that was the case, we wouldn’t look like Bazooka Joe,” he added, referring to a bubble-gum-wrapper cartoon, which has a character whose turtleneck is raised high on his mouth, in the form of a mask.
And at the Museum of Modern Art, the gift shop had masks on sale for up to 35% off, perhaps a sign that the precaution could be on the verge of disappearing.
Although the state has lifted explicit capacity limits for museums and other cultural venues, it still requires six feet of separation inside, which means that many museums have set their own limits on the number of tickets that can be sold. be sold per hour. And some have kept capacity limits from previous months, including the Museum of Jewish Heritage, which capped visitor numbers at 50%, and El Museo del Barrio, which remains at 33%.
Venues that only accept vaccinated guests can dispense with social distancing requirements, proving a tempting option for site owners keen to fill their small spaces. And there doesn’t appear to be a shortage of vaccinated members of the public: On Monday, the Comedy Cellar, which sells tickets to people who have been vaccinated and to those whose coronavirus test is negative passed within 24 hours, had to add an additional show because the demand was so strong. .
No one was happier to see queues of visitors than the site owners, who have spent the past year munching on their savings, laying off staff and eagerly awaiting federal pandemic relief.
During the lockdown, Andrew Elgart, whose family owns Cobble Hill Cinemas, said he sometimes watched movies alone in the theater with only his burrow for company (no popcorn, however – it was too much work to restart. the machine). Reopening to the public was nothing short of therapeutic, he said, mostly because most people seemed grateful to just be there.
“They are the most polite and patient customers we have had in a long time,” he said.
Reopening has been slower for concert halls, which tend to book talent months in advance, and say the economics of reopening with social distancing restrictions is impractical.
Those capacity limits and social distancing requirements have so far shut down most of the town’s jazz clubs, but Smalls in the village is an exception. In fact, the club was so eager to reopen at any capacity level that it attempted to do so briefly in February, positioning itself primarily as a bar and restaurant with incidental music, the owner said. club, Spike Wilner. This decision resulted in a significant fine and continued bureaucracy, he said.
Yet, for Wilner, there was no comparison between this year and the last, when he was “hiding” in a rented house in Pennsylvania with his wife and young daughter.
“It sounds like a kind of Tolstoy novel: there is the crash and the redemption, then the revival,” he said, leading the audience members to the jazz club. “Honestly, I’m feeling positive for the first time. I’m just relieved to be working and making the money.