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Balancing social distancing vs. sociability as St. Louis area bars try to bounce back
REOPENING ST. LOUIS

Balancing social distancing vs. sociability as St. Louis area bars try to bounce back

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City bar and restaurant owners were breathing a sigh of relief Monday after St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson lifted the city’s curfew, while bar owners in St. Louis County got to open their doors for the first time in months.

The curfew that took effect in the city June 2 after a night of violent looting had caused many restaurants and bars to close well before 9 p.m. over the past week.

But in the county, bars that don’t serve full meals have been limited to curbside service since March 23.

Dan Ritter, owner of River City Pub in south St. Louis County said his inside bar and dining space was opening Monday.

“Finally,” Ritter said with a laugh.

He said the bar’s main attraction is karaoke, something not possible in pandemic conditions as patrons stand elbow-to-elbow waiting for their turn to sing with the same microphone.

“It’s hard because you’re caught between a rock and a hard place, because you’re trying to make money reopening but you’re also trying to distance people, with alcohol in the mix,” Ritter said. “So that will be difficult.”

Those kinds of issues pushed bars toward the bottom of the county’s reopening schedule.

Carol Fallart, owner of Brew House bar in Maryland Heights, said she opened Monday. Shutting her doors for three months meant not seeing patrons who come in regularly from the neighborhood, she said. Now, in keeping with county regulations, she can welcome up to 25% of them back at a time.

“The hardest part is we’re a family — that’s part of my customer base,” Fallart said. “The customers that come in here, we’re their second home.”

Fallart said since the bar’s closing date, March 17, she’s lost thousands of dollars and had to throw out at least 500 bottles of beer. She said in addition to not seeing customers, the toll that closing took on her employees also was difficult.

City bars were allowed to reopen May 18. But after just two weeks in business, they faced the curfew hurdle.

Kevin Liese, owner of Jack Patrick’s Bar and Grill, said the curfew was “the right thing to do,” even though he’s lost revenue between that and the coronavirus outbreak.

A peaceful protest on June 1 turned violent that night near Liese’s business. “We lucked out — only one window broken,” he said. The grill is just east of Tucker Boulevard and is less than a mile from the 7-Eleven that was burned by looters.

“At 2:30 (a.m.) a neighbor saw somebody throw a planter at the window,” he said.

Liese said even before the curfew, his revenue had been affected.

“It’s depressing down here because there aren’t people on the streets,” he said. “We need that foot traffic.”

Though restaurants and bars are opening their doors, the mayor was still encouraging mask-wearing and hand-washing Monday. Case numbers are down in St. Louis, Krewson said, because of such safety precautions.

“There are currently 279 people hospitalized with COVID-19,” Krewson said. “That is the lowest number we’ve seen in a very long time. Dipping below 300 is great news.”

On Monday, Missouri recorded 14,734 COVID-19 cases and 819 deaths. St. Louis County accounted for 5,300 of those cases, according to the county’s website.

And in Illinois Monday, the state counted 128,415 positive cases with almost 6,000 deaths.

Krewson announced free COVID-19 testing for all, even for residents who are not symptomatic, due to the city gaining over 250,000 tests.

Meanwhile, some bar owners are still trying to figure out how to ensure social distancing in an industry that is meant to foster sociability.

James Smallwood, owner of 33 Wine Shop and Bar in Lafayette Square, said alcohol and social distancing can be a difficult formula to master.

He hopes to open by next Monday, but he’s trying to figure out how to keep his customers comfortable and maintain the atmosphere of a bar, while taking precautions.

He’s thought about plexiglass floor to ceiling. He’s thought about table distancing.

The dining area will have four tables available instead of the usual eight, and no barstools at the bar.

“We’ll be taking reservations for the first time ever,” he said. “That’s just weird in and of itself. ‘Hey, I’m gonna go to a bar.’ Well, do you have a reservation? That’s just weird.”

Flannery’s Irish Pub on Washington Avenue has been open since May 22 but has brought in a fraction of its weekly profit from before the pandemic, said manager Jordan Vipond-Gilbert.

“We did have to throw away a lot of alcohol and a lot of food,” Vipond-Gilbert said. “Probably close to 1,000 bottles of beer.”

The Irish pub had prepared for St. Patrick’s Day, stocking up on liquid refreshments, but was not able to sell the surplus as coronavirus swept the nation following the March holiday.

Vipond-Gilbert said the bar is now pulling in less revenue in a full week than it used to make on a busy weekend.

Liese, owner of Jack Patrick’s, said his business is about more than serving alcohol.

“Protest and virus aside, we’re not going to get back to normal until we have ballgames, hockey, all that,” Liese said. “I tell people I’m not going to worry unless the Blues don’t start like normal in October. If that doesn’t happen, then we’re all in some trouble down here.”

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