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Some Bars Are Reopening

Hendershot's front door
Hendershot’s is sticking to takeout for now.

Gov. Brian Kemp is now allowing bars and nightclubs to reopen as part of the next phase of Georgia’s economic recovery. You’d think this would be welcome news for bar owners in Athens, but even with the strict rules they have to follow before reopening, some worry that it may be too soon.

“We’re planning on holding out for as long as we can [before reopening],” says Norman Scholz, who owns the Globe. “We don’t want to get any customers sick, and we don’t want to get any of our staff sick.”

Bars that choose to reopen must follow a set of 39 rules, including regular employee health screenings, limiting party size to six people, capping total seating capacity to only 35% of normal, making masks mandatory for staff and enforcing social distancing of six feet. These rules sound good on paper but may not always be practical for some bars.

“It would be really difficult to control the flow of people… it becomes borderline impossible to maintain both the spirit and the letter of the regulations,” Scholz says.

The physical space and layout of some bars makes reopening a major challenge, but for others it’s not as tough. For example, Little Kings opened last week, while the nearby Manhattan will remain closed, even though they both have the same owner. The large outdoor patio space of Little Kings makes it easy to comply with social distancing, according to its owner, Joey Tatum. Things may look a little different—all the furniture on the inside is now gone— but those who want to enjoy a drink can order one and then head outside to sit at tables spaced 12 feet apart.

“We have had enough business to help start paying our bills again, which is awesome because things were starting to look real dire,” Tatum says.

Little Kings is now open from 5–10 pm.

Other bars around Athens are making tentative plans to reopen under similar conditions: either limiting service to outside only or offering greatly reduced service inside. For example, That Bar currently plans to reopen on June 11 at 35% capacity, after remodeling and rebranding as “The Hideout.”

Owner Evan Amedi says they had just two decisions: They could “remain closed and risk not opening up again, or open up and try our best to make do with what we can.” Even with a partial reopening, the economic reality of running an Athens bar in summertime can be difficult. Amedi says his goal is to stay in business by breaking even.

Hendershot’s will continue to offer to-go food and beverages, but a more complete reopening is not yet possible for them. “We really need to operate on all cylinders to be able to bring all of our staff back and be able to pay our bills, and that is just not an option right now,” says owner Seth Hendershot.

Over in Normaltown, Hi-Lo will continue selling take-out and has plans to reopen for dine-in in a couple of weeks, while maintaining social distancing, but there’s a catch. You’ll have to make a reservation to get in. 

“We want our staff and patrons to feel safe. We will be monitoring the number of people inside at all times,” says owner Terri Silva. As restrictive as this might sound, it’s much better than the alternative, which would have eventually been permanent closure. Serving only take-out is “definitely not sustainable,” according to Silva. 

As one of the lucky establishments with outdoor seating, Normal Bar will reopen on June 10, with bartenders taking orders at the back door. Owner Bain Mattox will be posting a set of rules that all patrons are expected to obey, and he’ll be around personally to ensure they are followed. 

What happens to people who break the rules?

“In that case, we will deny them service,” Mattox says. “My main goal here is to keep people safe.”

As bars and restaurants grapple with some very difficult decisions that will certainly have an impact on the local economy and potentially also on health, customers can help ease this transition by continuing to stay safe and by following CDC guidelines.

The local emergency resolution passed by the mayor and commission is still in place. While the stay-at-home order has been lifted, the commission is asking everyone to wear masks, keep socially distant and take care, as the economy reopens. 

Here’s to your health!