The Real Reason Some Bars Remain Open During The Pandemic

The ongoing coronavirus-related lockdowns and the strict enforcement of social distancing have pushed restaurants and bars to transition to delivery and takeout establishments. However, some bars have insisted on defying government officials' attempts to curb the pandemic.

In New York, which is currently a hotspot for COVID-19, police officers discovered late March that a bar in Brooklyn was continuing to remain open as an illegal speakeasy. The 12 people they found inside were drinking, gambling, and gathering together, even though the business did not have a state liquor license.

A spokesperson for the New York Police Department confirmed to VICE that the owner of the illegal speakeasy, who had been previously made aware of the executive order, was arrested and facing eight charges, including illegal alcohol sale, reckless endangerment, promoting gambling, criminal nuisance, and operating an unlicensed bottle club. According to the New York Post, the man was the first bar owner to be arrested over the city's lockdown order.

New York is not the only city dealing with bars that are refusing to comply with mandates. Police officers boarded up Queen City Lounge in Cincinnati after the discovery of 40 people inside enjoying a full buffet, in spite of the Ohio governor's order for eateries to halt dine-in operations. And the repercussions didn't stop there. The assistant chief of police apparently signed off on a letter that could lead to the bar having its foodservice and liquor licenses revoked (via VICE).

Bars want to keep employees paid during the pandemic

Why are bar owners risking it all to stay open, even though they might have to face the wrath of local cops and government officials? In the case of Joe Sartie of Snapper's Bar & Grill in Clinton, Illinois, it's to keep his employees paid during a crisis. The owner continued to keep his business open to the public, despite a statewide order from the governor to close bars and restaurants. Sartie told the Daily Beast that there was absolutely no way his bar would survive a shutdown and that he was planning to keep operating his business, even on his own, so he could pay his employees full wages while not requiring them to come in to work. 

From Sartie's perspective, the state was overreacting and placing unnecessary restrictions on businesses like his. He elaborated his decision to stay open in a Facebook post, which gained attention from media outlets and outraged the public. According to Food & Wine, Sartie's daughter deleted her father's post and shared an explanation and an apology, stating that the post was controversial and that she herself did not agree with its language and message. Two days later, Snapper's shifted to offering delivery and takeout only.

Delivery and takeout may not be enough for bars

While it's true that states are allowing restaurants and bars with the proper liquor licenses to include alcohol in delivery orders and serve customers to-go cocktails, these operations just haven't been worth it for a lot of businesses. Some have even throwen in the towel and stopped operations altogether. Steve Palmer, managing partner of The Indigo Road Hospitality Group, which runs restaurants and bars in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, told Food & Wine that delivery and takeout are just not viable and are more a channel to provide tips to his staff rather than actually keeping the business afloat.

Continuing these operations, though not profitable, has been made especially necessary since government assistance in the U.S. may not provide enough financial security. Food & Wine reported that whereas Britain has cushioned the blow of mandated bar closures with the government paying for 80 percent of missed wages for staff, unemployment benefits in California and New York, for example, are limited to $450 and $504 per weekly, respectively. These payments are far below the actual living wage, according to experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The government will presumably continue cracking down on any bars that remain open during the pandemic. If you're interested in supporting your watering hole from the comfort of your home, there are several ways to do that.