Public health officials are investigating after dozens attended a party at a bar in Hollywood Friday night without wearing masks or adhering to social distancing — many of them allegedly law enforcement officers.
The party, according to a spokeswoman for the Hollywood bar Sassafras Saloon, was meant to be a mix of first responders as a way to celebrate their profession.
CNN was tipped off to the event by a source with direct knowledge of the party, who was told it would involve 100 to 150 law enforcement personnel at the lounge on Vine Street.
The crowd inside was plainly visible through the bar’s windows from the sidewalk Friday night, drinking cocktails under flashing lights to club music so loud that it vibrated security bars. Attendees entered through the back door, where a small desk with a candle greeted them outside.
The owners of the Sassafras Saloon rented the bar out to someone who wanted to “honor a group of first responders,” according to Lisa Strangis, a spokeswoman for 1933 Group, which owns the bar.
In video posted to social media Friday night by Knock.LA, a publisher affiliated with the activist group Ground Game LA, shows people pulling up to the bar and replying “yeah” when asked if they’re there for an “LASD party.”
However, in a Facebook post, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department called reports the party was organized for or attended by its deputies “a hoax perpetrated by social activists.”
The agency said it came to the conclusion following an internal investigation.
On Monday, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said her department and Alcoholic Beverage Control officials are also investigating the party.
Health inspectors were sent to Sassafras Saloon on Saturday, Ferrer said in a news briefing.
“There is really zero tolerance for having indoor parties at your business, whether it’s a private or public party,” she said. “You potentially created a lot of exposures, and the possibility that that moves into the community would be a very unfortunate place for us to be right now.”
While Strangis said she was unwilling to name which agency the first responders belonged to, she said the renters paid for the space and that 1933 Group employees worked the event. Strangis denied that 100 people were in the bar Friday night, but declined to provide a number. Strangis also declined to identify the party’s host, saying that was private information.
“Everybody is either family or works at the same place so that’s why we don’t have COVID concerns,” said a man who spoke to CNN outside the bar Friday night. “They micro-group or whatever with each other, and everyone’s been tested and everything. That’s why we all know that everyone in there is cool.”
In a statement, the owners of 1933 Group later added that they “unequivocally do not condone this behavior and have no intention of agreeing to additional private events, charitable or otherwise, until the state allows.”
The male attendee, who declined to identify himself, claimed, “Everybody’s spaced there. Everybody’s wearing things. Everybody’s getting temperature checks.”
CNN did not observe any of that occurring.
After seeing a photo of the man who spoke with CNN, 1933 Group asserted he “is NOT an employee of 1933 or affiliated with the group in any way.”
The event took place as California surpassed 500,000 cases of COVID-19 — the highest number of cases for any U.S. state, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. As of Sunday, more than 9,300 people in the state had died since the start of the pandemic.
But California’s not alone. In recent weeks, cases have been rising in many states nationwide, with health experts and officials repeatedly pointing to large gatherings as one of several causes for the spikes in cases.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom this week urged his state to “wake up” to the reality of the deadly disease amid the rise in cases. Newsom’s office and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office have not responded to CNN’s requests for comment about Friday night’s event.
On July 13, the governor announced a new round of restrictions, including halting all indoor dining and closing bars unless they served food. The state allows outdoor dining at restaurants.
The L.A. County public health order also permits outdoor dining at restaurants, bars or brewpubs that serve food, but requires bar counters to close.
Strangis, the spokeswoman for 1933 Group, defended the gathering, saying “California currently allows restaurants and bars with full kitchens to allow patio service. Sassafras is a restaurant and bar with a full kitchen so we are eligible to operate under those conditions.”
Sassafras Saloon lists a menu of food on its website.
The 1933 Group believed the party was “a wonderful way to celebrate first responders,” Strangis said.
“It’s manageable with that size that we’re comfortable with, given the premise of the conversation presented to the owners. So they agreed to allow this at their venue.”