Social media videos circulating this morning purport to show a private party at closed bar Sassafras Saloon in Hollywood last night, with those inside said to be first responders including members of the police. Reports first surfaced on the Twitter account of Knock.LA and KCRW reporter Cerise Castle, showing multiple people entering Sassafras’s building and, later, the interior of the bar in full swing — music and all — with limited social distancing and little mask-wearing inside.
Knock.LA and Castle both allege that the group is from the Los Angeles Sherriff’s Department, including its massive correctional unit which operates the county’s jails, though that has not been confirmed. Eater reached out to the public information officer for the LASD, and received the following reply: “The persons identified in the video are not employees of the Sheriff’s Department and this event was not hosted by the LASD. As soon as we became aware of allegations of deputies attending a party in violation of health orders we initiated an inquiry in an attempt to validate the information or misinformation. If further details are discovered and action is warranted we will take appropriate administrative action.”
Sassafrass Saloon is an eight-year-old Southern-themed bar on Vine Street in Hollywood, complete with live music played from a second-floor balcony and popular cocktails like mint juleps available all night long — at least during non-pandemic times. The bar is owned and operated by the powerful 1933 Group, the LA-based nightlife consortium with a preservationist bent. Ownership also operates decades-old properties like the Formosa Cafe, Highland Park Bowl, Idle Hour in the San Fernando Valley, and has confirmed plans to reopen LA’s historic hot dog stand Tail O’ the Pup.
1933 Group said in a statement to Eater:
We were approached by an individual who requested to book a private event to honor a group of first responders. It was not a booking by the LA County Sheriff’s Department directly, and we cannot confirm whether LASD staff were present. Any claims put forth on social media are not substantiated, as we have no evidence that LASD individuals were at the event. Our team places the upmost importance on COVID safety standards, and we did everything possible to provide our staff and guests with two outdoor spaces that completely complied with currently safety precautions and social distancing expectations.
1933 Group further says that the “event was conducted on the uncovered patios,” though one video from last night (shown below) seems to indicate multiple people inside the indoor bar area. “We ensured that our team offered masks to all guests, took their temperatures before they entered, knew that hand sanitizer was provided, and instructed that food or beverage orders were placed through a plexiglass partition,” the statement continues.
party is apparently still poppin! Here are some numbers on COVID-19 in LA County Jails:— Cerise Castle (@cerisecastle) August 1, 2020
+ 35 people have tested positive
+ 71 people who tested positive have been released
+ 853 people have tested positive and recovered
A follow-up statement from ownership, sent to Eater, reads in part:
We did everything possible to provide our staff and guests with ample outdoor spaces that completely adhered to current safety precautions and social distancing expectations. Unfortunately, there were a number of guests that did not comply. We unequivocally do not condone this behavior and have no intention of agreeing to additional private events, charitable or otherwise, until the state allows.
Bars have been closed by order of California governor Gavin Newsom since late June as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and large gatherings with people outside of one’s immediate home (save for protests and religious events, mostly) have been considered off-limits since the beginning of lockdown orders back in March. An email to LA County Department of Public Health from June 18 previously confirmed that “gatherings are not allowed” under the county’s released reopening protocols, meaning last night’s event should have been a no-go for a variety of reasons.
Sassafras Saloon carries a Type 48 bar license, which allows for the sale of full liquor (as opposed to just beer and wine) without mandating that the business also sell food, meaning the facility is subject to Newsom’s mandated closure. A rep for 1933 Group would not say whether or not the company considered the possibility of losing their ABC license as a result of the unsanctioned event last evening.
Los Angeles County is closing in on 200,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with nearly 4,700 deaths. The county’s positivity rate for confirmed cases is just under 10 percent, and hospitalizations are still near record highs.
If it is ultimately confirmed that LA Sheriff’s Department officials were present, last night’s party would be yet another blow to the beleaguered group. The LASD has been called out in recent months for gang-like groups of deputies at various stations (including in Compton), for withholding public records, and for the use of a sexist slur by acting Sherriff Alex Villanueva against county supervisor Hilda Solis.
Bar owners and nightlife operators, meanwhile, have been left in purgatory by the changing public orders from Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti and California governor Gavin Newsom during the coronavirus pandemic, and many say that there is little hope of reopening any time soon, if at all.
This story has been updated with a statement from the LASD.