Denver bar owners say their fate rests in the hands of Governor Jared Polis and his decision this week whether or not to take a few more hours to do their nightly business.
With bars and nightclubs that have stopped serving food in Colorado since late June, Polis reached out to restaurants and bars serving food in July, requesting one final call at 10 p.m. for 30 days for the next Drink late at night to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Polis’ mandate will expire on Friday and he has yet to clarify whether the last 10 p.m. call will remain for the rest of the summer.
“With lower numbers, I hope we can make progress in expanding the opportunities for people to enjoy themselves,” Polis said during a press conference Tuesday. “But at the same time, with the virus present, we are nowhere near in a position to return to the way we lived last year without (…) destroying our economy and costing thousands of lives.”
However, some bar owners say they may not survive if the 10pm rule continues.
This week Justin Anthony sat down to compare pre and post-call earnings at 10 bars he and his partners own across town, from the North River to Downtown, Hale and East Colfax. Across the board, their business has declined by more than 60% in the past 30 days.
And this number is compared with sales already reduced due to the pandemic, Anthony clarified.
“We’re talking 60% of 60% (of pre-COVID sales),” he said.
At Blake Street Tavern in the Ballpark neighborhood, owner Chris Fuselier says his sales have fallen 20% since the last call at 10 p.m., but have fallen 80% overall since the pandemic. And down the street from him, Pony Up owner Angela Neri has lost 50-75% of her business, which usually happens between 10pm and midnight.
Neri said she decided to stop serving at 12 p.m. even before the last 10 p.m. call was ordered, but she is targeting a crowd in the restaurant industry who usually get out of work and at the bar in the later hours eats and drinks in the evening.
You and other owners believe that one last call at midnight could make all the difference.
“I really pray that (Polis) will meet us in the middle at 12 noon, and I think the vast majority of us would be really relieved if that happened,” Fuselier told the Denver Post. “Because if (10 p.m.) is extended by another 30 days, that would be another nail in the coffin for many of us.”
In late July, the Department of Public Health and the Environment began working with the Denver Sheriff’s Department to conduct enhanced “compliance oversight” in businesses across the city, including, but not limited to, bars and restaurants. The surveillance includes both complaint-based and preventative visits, DDPHE division director Danica Lee told the Denver Post.
She said the rationale for increased surveillance is a “growing trend of people who have tested positive reports that they have done more activities outside of their home in public spaces and businesses”.
Since the six-week program began in late July, DDPHE has issued four quotes specifically to restaurants for alcohol sales after 10 p.m. and other violations related to COVID.
“We believe the responsiveness of the business community in complying with public health regulations was important in reducing the number of cases we see in August,” Lee said. “We see companies bowing backwards.”
Hyoung Chang / The Denver Post
An empty Blake Street Tavern on the day the Rockies should be busiest on Friday. April 3, 2020. Denver.
However, owners like Anthony and Fuselier think the city and state’s focus on regulating bars and restaurants over the past month has been overdone for an industry trained in crowd control and responsible service.
“We are so regulated, all of our guests are seated and we are not allowed to congregate at the bar,” said Fuselier. “You know, it’s not like we’re dancing on tables at 10:01 am and the party starts.”
And Anthony believes the nationwide mask mandate likely played a bigger role in managing Colorado’s outbreak, unlike a previous recent appeal.
“The public perception is that the rules are being displayed (by our companies), which is just not the case,” he said.
COVID-19 cases in Denver decreased in August. The city reported about half as many new cases last week as it did in late July. However, officials worry about the end of summer, the return to classes in schools and universities, and a possible spike in COVID-19 due to Labor Day celebrations.
To which Fuselier offers simple answers. “If there’s a potential outbreak in our university towns like Boulder and Fort Collins, leave the 10pm rule there,” he said. “As for Labor Day, my answer is, it’s not a restaurant or bar weekend.”
Even when vacationers and locals go outside for Labor Day, Polis’ concern is clear: “We also know that a social setting resembling a nightclub or late-night bar with people getting drunk is an ideal place to be the spread of the virus provides. He said on Tuesday.
And Fuselier believes the mood will be hard to shake in the future.
“Unknowingly, the governor sends a message that we (bars and restaurants) are unsafe,” he said. Together with the Tavern League of Colorado, Fuselier is driving a lawsuit against the state calling for a later final call and an increase in capacity for larger venues. He said his hope was mediation in the next three to six weeks.
He is currently renting a “huge” television for his new, socially distant beer garden with 130 people. And if the Avs play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs during late slot next week, you can bet he won’t turn the game off until 10pm, regardless of where the last call is.
“I’ll take a quote for it,” said Fuselier.
Updated August 21 at 3:54 p.m.The following corrected information has been added to this article: Due to a reporting error, the title of Danica Lee and the Denver Law Enforcement Division that her office works with were incorrectly stated in an earlier version of this article. Lee is the director of public health studies at DDPHE. She works with the Denver Sheriff’s Department to oversee businesses.
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