Days after NYC dropped its vaccine mandate for restaurants, buzzy Greenwich Village seafood spot Dame faced an alarming amount of blowback from a mob of anti-vaxxers that showed up at the restaurant this week. A tense night unfolded as a group of people protested the acclaimed restaurant’s decision to continue requiring that all customers show proof of vaccination. The restaurant’s owners allege that they roughed up Dame’s outdoor patio and squatted in the dining room, while loudly comparing the vaccine mandate to segregation in the South, claiming that it was discrimination and calling those who enforce the mandate “Nazis.”
The unexpected events started at 8 p.m. on March 8, when two men walked into the restaurant without a reservation, co-owner Patricia Howard tells Eater. They sat down at the restaurant’s counter, and started asking for drinks. Howard explained that Dame was fully booked and didn’t have space for walk-ins — and, even if they had a reservation, they needed to check in with the host first to show proof of vaccination — but the men didn’t budge and kept referencing that the city had lifted the mandate. “They were argumentative from the start,” Howard says.
As the tense interaction was taking place inside the restaurant, a crowd of about 20 people with anti-vaxx paraphernalia, apparently connected to the two men, started gathering outside. At first, Howard thought that they were passersby on the restaurant’s busy Greenwich Village block, but then she noticed that the yellow-and-black caution tape wrapped around Dame’s outdoor dining patio (which was not in use at the time) had been torn down and “people were trying to unfold our outdoor furniture even though it was locked up,” Howard says. As the crowd kept meddling with Dame’s structure, co-owner and chef Ed Szymanski called the police. After about 15 minutes, before the police showed up, the group, which was never served food or drinks, “got bored and left,” Howard says.
But that wasn’t the end of the harassment. The group returned around 10 p.m., just as Dame was seating its last group of customers for the night. This time, four or five men walked into the restaurant, according to Howard. A large, muscular customer, who had offered to help after hearing of the initial incident two hours earlier, tried to ask the group to leave but they ignored the repeated requests, Howard says. The unmasked men sat themselves at the restaurant’s communal table, chugged water, kept loudly referencing freedom and segregation, said that they had a lawyer present, and were filming everything. She and Szymanski called the police again.
“We support the right to protest peacefully outside,” Howard says. “But not in our tiny, 450-square-foot restaurant while guests are trying to enjoy the reservation they’ve waited weeks for.”
Thirty minutes later, several police officers arrived, but “they still couldn’t get them to leave until more units arrived for backup,” Howard says. Meanwhile, the men had started shouting at Dame employees and customers in the dining room.