Norwalk Police charge restaurant owner with COVID-19 violation

A photo on the Dry Dock Bar & Grille website.

Updated, 1:30 a.m. Friday, more information.

NORWALK, Conn. — A Norwalk business owner has been charged with violation of a State public health emergency order, a misdemeanor. Police say they found a customer drinking in his bar.

Donald Mastronardi, owner of the Dry Dock Bar & Grille on Main Street, described the Norwalk Police reaction as overkill. You would have thought they were after Pablo Escobar, he said. 

Mastronardi, 43, of New Canaan, was issued a summons Friday night, on a promise to appear, Sgt. Sofia Gulino said. It’s the first arrest in Norwalk stemming from an alleged violation of a public health emergency order. Mastronardi could be fined up to $1,000 or imprisoned for up to a year, or both, under State Statute.

“On April 24, 2020, the police department received information from City Hall that they had received numerous complaints that the business at 215 Main Street was violating the executive order put into place by the Governor, that people were observed dining within the restaurant and drinking at the bar,” Gulino wrote Monday. “Officers responded to the scene and observed an individual drinking at the bar from a glass mug. The owner was summoned to the location. Officers learned that patrons were being permitted to consume a beverage while waiting for their to-go order. The owner responded, and was issued a summons for the violation.”

“It’s insane,” Mastronardi said Monday.

Gov. Ned Lamont initially ordered that bars and restaurants close, though eateries could sell food as take-out. On March 18, he ordered that restaurants and bars be allowed to sell alcohol with take-out food, for off-premise consumption.

Dry Dock has been doing a “fine” take-out business but on Friday it was taking longer than usual for the orders to be completed, Mastronardi said. A regular customer ordered a bottle of beer and because he was waiting a while, opened it and drank from it.

Another patron saw this – one person at the bar drinking a beer – and called police, he said, calling it “ridiculous.”

“Somebody has nothing better to do than call the cops?” he asked.

He had gone home but had to return, and found eight cops waiting for him, as if meth were being sold, he said. “For a person sitting at the bar.”

The customer had come in to say hello and everyone was wearing masks, according to Mastronardi. He’d been there for maybe 20 minutes and then opened the beer bottle.

“I was not there so I don’t know if there was a disproportionate police response. I tend to think that he might’ve embellished it just a bit. I do know that we had a similar complaint about dry dock the week before,” Mayor Harry Rilling wrote Wednesday.

Norwalk Police broadcasts on Friday concerning the incident indicated that two officers were dispatched to meet a sergeant on the scene, and then a third patrol unit requested information from the dispatcher.
“We have record that there were four police officers on scene, and the police report indicates there was one person drinking in the bar,” Public Information Officer Lt. Jared Zwickler wrote Wednesday.

“When officers arrived they found a {patron} drinking at the bar. The bartender and restaurant owner told officers they had been allowing patrons to drink at the bar. The owner, Donald Mastronardi, was issued a misdemeanor summons for Violation of a Public Health Emergency,” Zwickler wrote.

Rilling wrote:

“It is critically important that everyone maintain physical distancing and that everyone observes the executive orders by the governor and the local executive orders that are issued. They are issued for the purpose of keeping everyone safe and stopping the spread of the virus.

“These are very difficult and challenging times. The executive orders at the state and local levels are mandatory, not optional. No one has the right to determine if they have to abide by those executive orders or not.”


Mastronardi was, as mentioned above, issued a misdemeanor summons. Guliano explained on Monday, “While he was not taken into custody, this is an arrest whereupon he was released on a Promise To Appear.”

“I have nothing but respect for the police, I don’t blame them for this incident,” Mastronardi said Thursday. “If anything, it’s my action that caused that, for them to have to waste their time. But it was a misunderstanding and for one person at the bar.”


Sue Haynie April 30, 2020 at 6:11 am

Norwalk can’t (or chooses not to) track down illegal landlords who cheat on their city taxes, increase city costs, a create public health hazards.

But, gosh darn, drink a beer in a legally licensed, tax-paying Norwalk small business during COVID while you’re waiting for take-out and 8 officers respond.

My taxes at work?

JustATaxpayer April 30, 2020 at 9:14 am

If Mastronardi is a die hard democrat, this is very surprising. Of course, if he’s a Trump supporter, it’s no surprise.

Is the dog park closed? Sure doesn’t look it. What about day laborers. Are they practicing social distancing in SoNo?

Google is your friend April 30, 2020 at 2:39 pm

OMG….do you know how many restaurants in Norwalk I drive by and see people eating and drinking inside? To only single this place is indeed ridiculous.
By the way, Mayor Rilling, Dry Dock is a proper noun, so you must capitalize both the D in Dry and the D in Dock. Embarrassing.

Concerned Taxpayer April 30, 2020 at 11:14 pm

it goes beyond government, people are making the difference by seeing what is happening and being safe. You’re not supposed to serve the bar. Just look how many are closed. Maybe Dry Dock gets it one day

Steve Mann May 1, 2020 at 8:44 am

The comment by JustATaxpayer tells you all you need to know about the leap to judgment that divides our society today.

Mimi Chang May 1, 2020 at 12:32 pm

What’s disturbing is that a day before the media broke this story, Bob Duff prominently featured it on his Facebook pages and publicly shamed this business owner to his echo chamber of usual suspects, who proceeded to go on a feeding frenzy, attacking the man in their comments. Other commenters could not believe that a senator could sink so low. The rabbit hole of comments which ensued as a result of Bob Duff’s post are stomach turning. What kind of leadership is this? What purpose did Duff’s post actually serve? Shouldn’t a leader exhibit empathy during these tough times, help small businesses rather than harm them, and seek to unite, rather than to divide, his constituents? What Duff fails to mention to his echo chamber in his shaming of this owner is that the man was doing good and giving back to his community during this pandemic, providing meals for hospital workers and policemen. Thumbs down, Bob Duff. This reeks.

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