Bar owners ordering supplies, planning for reopening

By , Daily Memphian Updated: September 22, 2020 6:22 PM CT | Published: September 22, 2020 3:56 PM CT
<strong>The newest health directive, issued early Tuesday afternoon, allows most hospitality businesses to open on Wednesday</strong>. (Houston Cofield/Daily Memphian file)

The newest health directive, issued early Tuesday afternoon, allows most hospitality businesses to open on Wednesday. (Houston Cofield/Daily Memphian file)

Night lights have been glowing at the bar at Alchemy for weeks now because customers told owner Nick Scott they couldn’t bear to drive by at night and see the place dark.

Tuesday night, Alchemy will be fully lit, a symbol of the sheer exuberance Scott is feeling about his plan to reopen Saturday.

“We are actually rallying the troops right now, trying to get everyone back together,” he said. “We are trying to do a soft reopening this weekend.”

More than two months after limited-service restaurants were closed down by the Shelby County Health Department on July 8, owners across the city are putting in food orders and marshaling forces to reopen.

The new health directive, issued early Tuesday afternoon, caught them by surprise. It allows most hospitality businesses to open, with the exception of close-contact adult-entertainment businesses and parades and festivals.

Shelby County offers $10K grants for closed bars in ‘Share the Tab’ program

There are plenty of restrictions, including bar patrons will have to be served at tables, not at the bar. There can be no standing at the bar, no dancing, and all establishments must close at 10 p.m., although carry-out and curbside business may continue longer.

“We are going to go by the guidelines they give us on table seating, restrictions on dancing and just abide as much as we can until we see the next directive come out,” said Daniel Masters, who owns the Silly Goose, a gourmet pizza and bar Downtown.

“We are opening tomorrow. My phone has been blowing up since the news came out,” he said.

Silly Goose will start with a skeletal crew, much like it’s had most of the summer for take-out business.

“We’re not going to be full like we were before,” said Masters, who also operates Puck Hall and Pontotoc Lounge, both which are open.

While there are no capacity limits, the newly opened limited-service restaurants must adhere to 6-foot social-distancing regulations, which limit how many people may be inside. 

There are no changes for full-service restaurants. The 10 p.m. curfew is also still in effect for all. So is a two-hour time limit on the premises.

Cigar lounges, vape shops and other venues based on smoking have more restrictive rules, including that only two people may be seated in booths, and they must be from the same household.

Those businesses also must be well ventilated.

Most bars remain closed after two months; a few have reopened with a new license

“It’s also important that we note that any use of tobacco or tobacco products increases the risk of transmission as well as individuals who smoke becoming more at risk of becoming ill,” said Alisa Haushalter, head of the Shelby County Health Department.

“We also want people to take caution and really consider whether or not they want to engage in those activities,” she said.

All businesses, including full-service or limited-service restaurants, may have live music but no dancing is allowed inside or outside the premises, and the music may not be loud enough to impede normal “conversational speech.”

Some limited-service restaurants took advantage of opportunities to re-license as full-service restaurants. For those businesses, the changes mean nothing, except perhaps continued loss of revenue.

“Business is good,” said Mike Nash, who owns Tavern 018 in Cordova, “as close as it can be closing at 10.

“I was open to 3 a.m.” he said.

<strong>Jeannette Comans, owner of the Blind Bear on South Main, reopened the speakeasy in late August as a full-service restaurant. &ldquo;Nothing changes for me,&rdquo; she said.</strong> (Karen Pulfer Focht/ Special to the Daily Memphian file)

Jeannette Comans, owner of the Blind Bear on South Main, reopened the speakeasy in late August as a full-service restaurant. “Nothing changes for me,” she said. (Karen Pulfer Focht/ Special to the Daily Memphian file)

Jeannette Comans owns The Blind Bear, a 1920s-style speakeasy on South Main that reopened in late August as a full-service restaurant.

“Nothing changes for me,” she said.

Bars on pedaling vehicles may also get back to business with more caveats, including that there can be no consumption of alcohol while people are pedaling. Those vehicles also may not stop at other establishments for the purchase of alcohol and they must maintain 12 feet of distance from pedestrians or people seated in sidewalk cafes.

The rules change as the county has posted slight upticks in case numbers since the Labor Day weekend and the resumption of in-class schools. The COVID-19 reproduction rate is risen to over 1, which means each infected person on average is passing the disease to one other. That means overall infection is still growing in the community.

The difference now is that the health department says it is better able to track cases, including point of transmission, which makes it confident it can contain rising numbers that could come from easing economic restrictions.

Early in the pandemic, due to the state data-collection efforts, it was difficult to “pinpoint the location of transmission,” Haushalter said.

“We could very quickly highlight if it was a nursing home or a health care system because the data system allowed us to extrapolate that very quickly,” she said.

In July, the health department added 140 staff members, beefing up its ability to investigate outbreaks, including the point of transmission, and contact tracing.

It is now hiring 70 additional people. The extra manpower, plus new sets of data, mean it can now identify outbreaks faster, including where transmission likely occurred.

If there is transmission associated with a specific bar, “we can be laser-focused,” Haushalter said. “We feel confident at the current time with the restrictions in place that there’s less likelihood of transmission. And if transmission occurs, we can pick that up quickly and be able to intervene very quickly.”

She praised the sacrifice and diligence in the community for the progress, but also noted that gains have come from the work of the Memphis-Shelby County COVID-19 Task Force, which includes leaders from across the region in variety of disciplines and businesses.

“Our ability to entertain different perspectives, although we may not always agree, entertaining and hearing those other perspectives, has allowed us to really tailor our approach to Shelby County, and we’re seeing the positive outcome of that,” Haushalter said.

“Really, everyone in Shelby County needs to pat themselves on the back for a job well done, but also recognize that our job is not finished. We do know that there will continue to be transmission. We know that across United States numbers are going up, so we have to continue the course at the current time.”

Dr. Jon McCullers, a member of the task force and chief pediatrician at Methodist Le Bonheur, early Tuesday said a new health directive was coming, but he doubted the health department would significantly loosen restrictions.

“The Health Department, I think is going to be pretty conservative. If they do make changes, it’ll be less change than they had been talking about a couple of weeks ago,” he said.

Monday, infectious disease expert Dr. Stephen Threlkeld referred to a national weekly morbidity, mortality report published last week in which people hospitalized with COVID-19 were compared to a similar sample size of people hospitalized for other reasons.

“They found out that the folks who had COVID-19 weren’t any more likely to have gone to church, synagogue or mosque or have used public transportation and those other things, but they were over twice, I think was 2.3, 2.4 times more likely to have gone to a restaurant or bar-kind of facility,” said Threlkeld, who treats COVID patients at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis.

Because people can’t eat or drink with masks on and may be too close together in “some of those places,” Threlkeld said opening limited-service businesses could be “cause for concern” and would require keeping close tabs as cases in the city and surrounding areas have been rising.

“I think in 30 out of 50 states, the numbers were up significantly over the last few days,” he said.

Tuesday morning, Masters was working through anger with the state Department of Revenue, which tacked penalties and interest on his unpaid taxes.

“We are paying taxes, but I was more concerned about our labor than paying Big Brother. We have to take care of our people first. The state just wants their money with these ridiculous penalties they tack on.

“I was dealing with that this morning,” he said. “My mind was in a bad place. This helped out a ton.”

By Tuesday afternoon, Scott was quickly putting in a food order for the weekend and trying to get staff back from out of town for the opening.

“We’ve got to prep the food and get it back together, and do a small menu to start and kind of go from there,” Scott said.

“We’re very excited and grateful to be able to reopen. We just have to get everything put back together so we can do it the way Alchemy does it.”


Nick Scott Alchemy Jeannette Comans The Blind Bear Mike Nash Daniel Masters limited-service restaurants COVID-19 loosening restrictions
Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers business news and features for The Daily Memphian.


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