The roaring '20s was an iconic time in American restaurant history: dim-lit speakeasies playing raucous jazz and serving illegal booze in delicate coupes. When 64-year-old Los Angeles hotspot, La Scala, tucked invitations into its takeout bags titled "Speak Easy — New Year's Eve Dinner," earlier this month, it called upon the spirit of the Prohibition era, but received a wave of backlash in return.
Since Dec. 6, Los Angeles restaurants, bars and wineries were forced to cease all in-person dining as part of another stay-at-home order issued in regions where hospital ICUs had less than 15% capacity. Governor Gavin Newsom's order had no firm end-date but said regions could reopen once their ICU capacities reached 15% or more — no earlier than three weeks after the order was issued, which would be Dec. 27.
On Dec. 25, LA-based Alissa Walker, the urbanism editor for New York Magazine's "Curbed" vertical, called out La Scala for sending its invitation before Los Angeles county was permitted to lift the stay-at-home order.
“Welcome back to the 20’s Prohibition: Speak Easy — New Year’s Eve Dinner," the note was titled. "We are considering taking reservations for New Year’s Eve Dinner. Inside. If this is something you’d be interested in, Please let us know as soon as possible. If enough interest [sic] we’ll contact you back to secure a reservation. Please keep this discreet, but tell all your friends.”
On the post, which has been shared more than 3,000 times, many people (including people who said they were restaurant owners) expressed upset that some small businesses were trying to get ahead in spite of government shutdowns and felt the invite sent mixed messages.
Others tagged the Beverly Hills Police Department, who replied their Code Enforcement department was handling it.
Keith Sterling, public information manager for the City of Beverly Hills, told TODAY Food the city was "made aware" of the invitation on Dec. 24 and "contacted representatives of La Scala to confirm the conditions of the County’s Health Order" the same day.
La Scala's corporate office did not return TODAY's request for comment Tuesday, but confirmed the speakeasy invitation in a statement on their website and Instagram the day before.
After thanking its patrons for more than six decades of support, the restaurant reframed what the invitation "was meant to convey."
"With the dining ban set to expire on Dec. 28th we are hopeful of resuming some sort of table service and we are considering taking reservations for New Year’s Eve," they clarified. "If this is something you would be interested in, please let us know. If allowed, and if there is enough interest, we’ll contact you to secure a reservation."
The statement continued, "Unfortunately, the person that wrote it tried to add some levity and said inside instead of outside. It didn’t come out as intended, how we wanted to be represented, nor how we wanted to represent ourselves ... . If you can find fault in that, there is nothing more we can say. No harm was meant."
The restaurant team did not directly apologize for offending the patrons who had tried to support local businesses with takeout orders, only to find the concerning note. But it did offer an apology to anyone who had suffered during the pandemic.
"We cannot forget all the people that are losing their businesses. If everyone would turn their hate to love and direct it to the people that need it instead of attacking small businesses trying to survive, that would be a much better use of their time," the statement read.
Like many California restaurants affected by the stay-at-home order restrictions, La Scala remained closed as of Monday, Dec. 28 — the day they'd hoped to reopen in time for New Year's.