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Just steps from Philadelphia's Singing Fountain and the sounds of Sinatra rolling through its speakers, Manatawny Still Works attracted customers with their own music. People killing time in Passyunk Square prior to making their dinner reservations turned to the sounds coming from Manatawny's French door window and noticed the huge flower box and then the "Tasting Room" sign.
When Governor Tom Wolf asked restaurants and bars to stop dining in March, the window went from the passerby attraction to the take-away whiskey service window, plant manager Jennifer Sabatino told Fortune. Then, when the new mandate said bars must serve food, Sabatino came up with a game for their newest menu item.
Operations Manager Jennifer Sabatino (right) at the front window of the Manatawny Still Works tasting room. Courtesy Jennifer Sabatino
“With current mandates in Pennsylvania, we must serve you a meal now. Tonight we have an incredible range of handmade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, ”she recites. "You can get half of it for 75 cents, and if you want to order more, you're more than welcome."
With a little humor and a lot of uncertainty, bar owners think on their feet to keep up with the changing regulations of their states. At the national level, virus cases continue to rise, with some experts pointing fingers at bars, forcing them in some states to close completely while restaurants are allowed to continue operating. It remains to be seen how many will never open up again.
For bars lucky enough to keep working in some way, the new challenge, according to Sabatino, is to adapt to new rules. Every morning when she wakes up, she checks the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association website to see what might have changed. What do I have to do this week to keep my staff and this operation going? Sabatino wonders.
“First we were allowed to eat outside, and then they recorded the food outside. And then we would be able to dine inside, but then they got the inside under control. We're just trying to keep up, ”says Sabatino.
Manatawny Still Works did pretty well for the first two months. The state had closed liquor stores, making it one of the few places to buy liquor. To enable the al fresco dining that keeps the tasting room alive, the city has issued a temporary al fresco dining permit. Now the cost of doing business is tied to dealing with the public, and Sabatino says customers don't want to know what to do with anything – including wearing masks.
"Getting people in the service industry to regulate how their guests and people outside their guests behave is a lot," she says.
Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Irish pub owner Matthew Bagley learned this lesson firsthand when he started selling Cuomo Chips at Harvey's Irish Pub in Saratoga Springs, the birthplace of the potato chip. The pub has a full kitchen and a dinner menu, but when the New York Governor ordered bars not to serve alcohol without food, Bagley wanted to allow customers to enjoy their drinks without buying a full meal.
The pub was running out of fries in a day and a half when news of the offer went viral, but the joke had some unintended consequences. That same week, the state alcohol agency called. The chips were not compliant, the agency said. The good news? The solution was simple: add salsa.
His bar had also attracted customers who thought masks were optional.
"It should look like," Look, we did a funny one, "says Bagley," but now people think I'm an old-right bar owner who wants to show the governor and not wear masks, and that's it Not."
Before it was called State Street, it was Highway 44, the namesake of the Boise Karaoke Bar, 44 Club. When manager Judy Smith passed away after 30 years in the bar, nobody, not even the owner, knew who could replace her.
Her daughter Debbie quit her job as an EKG technician to manage her mother's favorite place in the world.
"I used to go down there and see them, and now I'm actually in their shoes," says Thompson. “I'm exactly where she did it. I have her friends now. I have their dogs. I have her job now. "
Folk singer Pinto Bennett and his band perform at the 44 Club. Courtesy Debbie Smith
Because the regulars loved their mother, Thompson says, they love her too. They helped her learn to run the bar, and under the guidance of nightlife expert Jon Taffer – she watched every Bar Rescue episode she could find – Thomspon, 55, has been running the 44 club for seven years .
That's how Thompson wanted to spend the rest of her life – until the pandemic left the bar's future in the balance. Brad Little, the governor of Idaho, ordered the bars to close in mid-March and then allowed them to reopen in May before closing again in late June. The 44 Club has remained closed since then and has so little working capital left after all the seizures and starts that Thompson is not sure if it can reopen. All of the money the bar made in May went towards paying property and corporate taxes due in June, she says.
“My mother went in every day and knew her life was coming to an end and did her job. She ran the shop until she died of Cancer, and I don't want to be completely sad here, but I thought I would too, ”she says.
During the first shutdown, all of their beer drained. The second time, Thompson was there: she stopped her garbage service immediately and cut the cable. Then the phone. Then she turned down the coolers to save as much electricity as possible and brought the expensive liquor bottles back to the store.
With the unemployment controls expired, Thompson fears that she will have to find another job.
“My son said he could hire me to run parts. He runs a car shop, ”says Thompson. "Right now, I'm mowing my son's lawn to make a little more money because he works hard all week."
Inside the Standard Pour in Dallas. Courtesy Eddie Campbell
Over the years as the leading mixologist in the Dallas bar and restaurant scene, Eddie "Lucky" Campbell has assembled a pretty stellar private collection of rare whiskeys, including all of the rare Pappy Van Winkle bourbons. A 23-year-old bottle of Pappy Van Winkles Family Reserve can sell for up to $ 3,000, and Campbell sold them all at half price to raise as much money as possible for his family and the three bars and restaurants he did participates.
“When the closure ends and you can reopen, everyone will think the fighting is over. But nobody really makes money with such high occupancy restrictions, ”says Campbell, who for the past 40 years also sold his Ford F-150 Raptor pickup, both his dream car and the best-selling truck in the USA. “What if we had to go through another one? It would bury us. "
But the hardest part, he says, is separating from his 5-year-old son. Since Campbell comes into contact with new customers every day at his cocktail restaurant, the Standard Pour, he's made sure to keep his distance and stick to FaceTime calls or visits from the front yard.
"I think all parents in the hospitality industry are scared of exposure," he says. "After dealing with guests every night, they disinfect their cars like crazy out of worry and fear."
After the first closure, the bars in Texas were allowed to reopen in May at 25% occupancy and then had to close again in June. July was an opportunity to reopen – if a bar could get more than half of its sales from anything other than selling liquor, it would technically be a restaurant in the eyes of the state.
Campbell would be the first to admit that bars are a need right now, not a need. But when states close bars and not restaurants, it doesn't mean people will stay home. They just walk across the street to open restaurants where they can still drink.
"It's not an effective strategy at all," says Campbell, whose attorney parliament is currently closed. "It's almost encouraging to congregate in some of these places because young people feel like they get the insight at all of the parties that are going on in restaurants tonight."
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