The yelling and complaining outside the Griffins of Kinsale Irish pub in South Pasadena might have only seemed louder than the partying going on inside.
But bar owner Joseph Griffin definitely heard it on St. Patrick’s Day.
That night, he had committed what is for many now a cardinal sin: He opened his pub on the city’s iconic Mission Street right smack in the middle of the great coronavirus shutdown.
Some angry residents screamed at bar patrons and posted the video on Twitter. Others lambasted Griffin on Facebook.
The “quarantine shaming” was on.
“I’ve been here for eight years,” Griffin said inside his bar two days later. “To have people call me and my business out online so viciously — in some cases, to have people screaming at me and the employees of this bar — was incredible.”
Since March 15, Gov. Gavin Newsom and local officials, including L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, have ramped up a series of efforts to shut down nonessential businesses to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Though many people feeling like they need a stiff drink during these trying times might disagree, bars were considered nonessential. But if Griffin, a father of 11, felt alone in the midst of the backlash, he was far from it.
Even if officials, including law enforcement, aren’t ready or able to crack down on everyone violating the shutdown orders, there’s always an abundance of online cops ready to be deputized to do the honors.
From California to Florida, the shaming has taken several forms — against bars, gyms, a chamber of commerce shindig promoted on Instagram. Individuals who have participated in large gatherings have also ended up on the pokey end of social media barbs.
Last week, “CBS Evening News” posted a 50-second clip on Twitter of daring — and possibly inebriated — college students flocking to Miami Beach for spring break and vowing, one after another, not to let the coronavirus rain on their party.
“If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying,” one declared.
"I'm not gonna let it stop me from partying": Some spring break visitors in South Florida lamented the restricted access to beaches and entertainment as public health and government officials race against the clock to curtail the spreading coronavirus. https://t.co/8gBUuhcskw pic.twitter.com/LQKBQO5SwG— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) March 18, 2020
The post received more than 900,000 views and hundreds of comments from Twitter users calling the spring breakers everything from “selfish” to “stupid” for disregarding COVID-19 safety precautions such as social distancing and staying home.
Eventually, mayors from Miami Beach to Fort Lauderdale closed their beaches even though Florida’s governor did not.
In Griffin’s case, he said he didn’t know his pub was supposed to be closed when he opened it Tuesday at 7 a.m. The day before, the city of South Pasadena had issued a closure of all bars, but Griffin said that he wasn’t aware of the order and that no one from the city reached out.
He said he was careful to advise customers to make only takeout or delivery orders. He also asked people not to sit down and eat food on the premises, Griffin said. But some did anyway. There was also live music playing in the pub.
By around 7 p.m., South Pasadena police, tipped off by angry residents, showed up to Griffins of Kinsale for the third time — and on this visit, they were accompanied by someone from the L.A. County Department of Public Health. The pub was closed on what Griffin called his “most important night of the year.”
The pub owner is convinced the complaints came from other businesses.
“I’m not going to name names, because it doesn’t help, but we weren’t the only business open that night,” Griffin said. “I didn’t hear any complaints until the day of, and I firmly believe those came from other area businesses and from a few people determined to shut us down.”
But the reaction on social media suggests the anger was broader than that.
South Pasadena resident Steve Zikman said that as he passed the pub, he was incensed by the crowd, the noise — and what he took as a lack of concern in the face of a pandemic that was causing mass layoffs and fear.
Zikman channeled his outrage on a local, private Facebook page, but not before calling South Pasadena police to report the pub.
Zikman was upset “with everybody there sitting close to each other, drinking, socializing, and ignoring all of the social distancing rules that we’re all trying to get used to,” he wrote.
“We’re all making sacrifices and these guys can’t close on St. Paddy’s Day,” Zikman later told The Times.
The earliest complaints came midday Tuesday when people on Facebook expressed their anger on the pub’s page.
Some complaints include accusations that Griffin “put the community at risk for money,” demonstrated “dangerous behavior” and made a decision that was an “utter disgrace.”
Josh Albrektson said he yelled at bar patrons while posting a video on Twitter of the pub waiting on seated guests. He also tagged South Pasadena police and gave live updates Tuesday from 6:45 p.m. until the bar closed down about 15 minutes later.
The one bar in South Pasadena, Griffins next to the train station, was having a Saint Patrick’s day party. I opened the door and screamed at them that they were all sh!tty horrible people. The cops with County Health came 5 minutes later to shut them down. pic.twitter.com/ePYMoSJsf5— Josh (@JalbyMD) March 18, 2020
“I opened the door and screamed at them that they were all … horrible people,” Albrektson tweeted at 6:45. “The cops with county health came 5 minutes later to shut them down.”
South Pasadena Deputy Chief Brian Solinsky said police first visited the pub at 12:48 p.m. to deliver Griffin orders from the county telling the business owner his establishment could serve only takeout or delivery orders.
Solinsky said officers returned at 3:08 p.m. to issue a health and safety code citation carrying a possible fine of $1,000.
The final meeting, according to Solinsky, was with police and a county environmental health specialist, who delivered the pub yet another citation, which carried a mandatory inspection by county officials before the bar could reopen.
Solinsky said Griffins of Kinsale was the only business fined that evening.
Griffin didn’t find sympathy from people who work at businesses that closed, including Teamorrow, a Taiwanese tea shop and eatery.
“They were open and they didn’t change anything, unlike everyone else,” said Juanita Diaz, 18, a barista.
Teamorrow co-owner Yi Wang, 33, was confused by what was going on at the pub.
“Maybe some people didn’t understand that there were some changes that needed to be made,” Wang said. “I don’t know, but maybe they weren’t aware.”
Griffin said that he was caught flat-footed and that he had received several calls from residents who expressed their hope the Irish pub would open on St. Patrick’s Day. He also said that with so many orders — from the state, from cities, from the county — it was hard to keep up.
“I was following what the governor said on Sunday [March 15], and he said for restaurants to have less than 250 people and to do social distancing,” Griffin said. “That night, we had probably 20 to 25 people, and there was proper spacing.”
Griffin added that diners who were sitting at tables did so only to wait for takeout orders. Moreover, he ended up losing money, he insisted.
One thing’s for sure, Griffin said: Everything is moving so fast.
“The way attitudes have changed just in the last couple of days has been amazing,” he said. “I was open Saturday and Sunday and nobody said anything. Nobody said anything on Monday. Then Tuesday rolls around, and all of a sudden I’m this horrible person.”