After months of operating on tightened schedules, bar owners are welcoming the reinstitution of full operating hours without an 11 p.m. close, though capacity is still capped at 50%.
The move comes as the city has lowered the community risk level and is beginning to provide take-home COVID tests for bar employees,
“I’m thankful to the city for the take-home COVID tests. These steps are the steps that will help businesses stay open safely, which we’ve all been working very hard to do for nearly two years,” said Triangle Club owner Leeann Thomas in an interview. “That’s what we need to test staff, open back up, and have jobs. My staff is ready to work, they want more hours, and I’m grateful they stuck with me when their hours were cut by mitigating measures.”
Other bar owners reflected the sentiment concerning the recent availability of take-home tests.
“They’re going to be handing out instant antibody tests,” said Jared Curé, owner of the Narrows and the Viking Lounge in a phone interview. “That’s a positive step that I’ve been happy to work with the city on.”
The full hours also mean that staff will have more hours of work possible, depending on the operating hours of the establishment.
“My numbers are definitely up. Our numbers were really hurting being closed at 11 p.m,” said Shelly Hurt, owner of the Imperial Saloon in an interview. “Those people that work for me, it’s their hours getting cut. For someone who works four nights a week, that’s 12 hours a week. It’s hard for these kids to make money these days during COVID.”
Moving on from the previous policy, where bars were only open to the vaccinated after 11 p.m., is also welcomed by the owners. It means that the crowd downtown won’t have to flow into the smaller number of bars that remained open after some closed their doors at 11 p.m. rather than deal with the policy, Curé said.
“It’s a step in the right direction. It’s good to see numbers are dropping and we’re able to lift a bit of the restrictions. I was never a big fan of the ‘vaccinated after 11 p.m.’ mandate in the first place,” Curé said. “Their intentions were good, but what it did was condense people into small locations when they were spread out before.”
Curé said the “vaccinated after 11 p.m.” rule, which required bartenders to ask anyone who couldn’t provide proof of vaccination to leave created considerable friction with upset clients, up to and including threats of physical violence being made against bartenders.
“It made us into enforcement, which put the bartenders into some really uncomfortable situations,” Curé said. “I’ve had bartenders that were yelled at. I’ve been threatened with lawsuits.”
However, capacity is still capped at 50%, and some are still hesitant to bring musical acts and other entertainment back in.
“I’d like to open it up and have some fun and make some money. I’d like to have people back on my dance floor for the first time since August,” Hurt said. “I’m nervous to bring back stuff. We get a spike in COVID cases, and the first thing that’s going to get shut down are the bars. I’m kind of on the fence.”
That particular vulnerability of the bars to the shifting tides of mitigation measures, which at times have seen them anywhere from fully reopened to completely shuttered, have some reluctant to bring back long-standing bar games.
“We are excited to have more activities but we’re hesitant right at this moment,” Thomas said.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.