Triangle Club owner Leeann Thomas, right, and bartender Sam Sims, toast the bar at last call before an indefinite closure due to coronavirus prevention measure, March 18, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Triangle Club owner Leeann Thomas, right, and bartender Sam Sims, toast the bar at last call before an indefinite closure due to coronavirus prevention measure, March 18, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

As breweries and restaurants go to takeout, bars face a grim future

Inflexibility of the shutterings will hurt many bars and their employees

Juneau’s bars shuttered Wednesday night with a toast to good health and a future where the doors reopen soon.

“It’s not goodbye, just see you later,” said Triangle Club owner Leeann Thompson as she raised a beer at last call. “We’re gonna come back happy and healthy.”

The early last call wasn’t limited to the capital city.

A statewide health mandate issued Tuesday evening ordered bars, breweries, food and beverage kiosks or trucks and dine-in restaurants to close from 5 p.m. March 18 until 5 p.m. April 1. Drive-thru and carry-out service are still allowed.

“Tonight we’ll be switching to an all to-go menu,” said Evan Wood, co-owner of Devil’s Club Brewing in a phone interview. “We’re trying to keep everyone employed and working in the building as long as possible while being as responsible and keeping the community safe.”

Many restaurants and breweries are pivoting to a take-out model of business, which will salvage some of their revenue while minimizing risks. Bars, with their reliance on customers visiting the premises and Alaska laws against selling their stock off-premises, are less fortunate.

“Strict bars have no flexibility,” said Jared Curé, owner, the Narrows and Viking Lounge, in a phone interview. “Everyone’s going to be taking a large economic hit, but the bars are going to be hit the worst.”

Loss of revenue from both the bar closings and the overall drop in tourist revenue from the sharp curtailing of cruise traffic is expected to have a chilling effect on revenue, a great deal of which relies on summer tourist traffic, Curé said.

“No matter what, the economic hit to the bar industry is going to be staggering,” Curé said. “At the moment I think the important thing is the employees in the service industry and their reliance on daily tips. Without that, it’s definitely the employees that I’m most worried about.”

Those employees, particularly those whose primary occupation is in the service industry, are less than thrilled.

“I’m not sure how I’m going to pay my rent,” said Sam Sims, a bartender at the Triangle Club. “I honestly don’t know what I’m gonna do for the next few weeks cause I can’t afford to not be making money.”

Other states, including New York, have recently adjusted their laws to close bars, while allowing for the sales of alcohol off premises within certain guidelines.

“In other states like New York, where the bars could sell off premises,” Curé said. “If we could sell that (inventory) off premises, get some capital to help us weather the storm, that would help us.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757.621.1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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