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Eat and Drink

Polis Shutters Bars After Rise in Colorado COVID-19 Cases

Bars that serve food do not need to close, and those in counties that have received variances may also remain open.

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Just two weeks after Gov. Jared Polis allowed bars and nightclubs to reopen for in-person service, he has closed them again. The new round of closures is in response to rising COVID-19 cases in Colorado, especially among younger demographics. At a press conference on June 30, Polis said he made the decision after speaking with governors of states with skyrocketing cases—they attributed the spikes to private parties and bars.

“We also need to talk about how we rein in some of the unsafe behavior that has been occurring in bars in our state, and in nightclubs… we’re essentially modifying guidance for bars to go back to where we were two weeks ago,” Polis said at the conference. “Our country and the world, in a pandemic, has not figured out how to do bars and clubs safely. We just haven’t.”

This marks Colorado’s first regression following a slow reopening process, and it comes with some big exemptions. Bars that serve food do not need to close, and those located in counties that have received variances may also remain open. Considering that most bars and breweries currently serve food, it’s unclear just how big of an impact this mandate will have. Every bar and brewery 5280 contacted for this story said they’d remain open.

The businesses must, of course, continue to follow proper social distancing requirements, which include well-spaced tables and prohibiting customers from mingling with people outside of their own small groups. Mingling is the behavior Polis is targeting, and some bars are interpreting that as meaning they can no longer serve people at bar stools.

“The bigger impact is shutting down mingling and the use of bar stools,” says Susan Wieser, general manager of newly-reopened the Cruise Room (which was not using bar stool seating before the new mandate). “With this regulation, that’s retracted. But that’s really the complexity of this for all of us. We’re all trying to navigate what does this rule mean, how is it interpreted, what does it look like?”

Problems arise when businesses are lax with enforcement of health and safety rules, as was the case for some Colorado bars and nightclubs that had been ignoring distancing requirements. Recently, Beta Nightclub was shut down by the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment for operating above capacity, not enforcing proper social distancing, and for employees not wearing the required face coverings.

“We were very frustrated with Beta, watching them not following the guidelines and we’re sitting there busting our butts to follow the guidelines,” says Ben Elek, general manager of neighboring Jackson’s Denver, whose restaurant will remain open in light of the new state mandate. “We felt pretty proud of ourselves that we’re doing a good job, and then you walk by Beta at the end of your shift and they’re sitting elbow to elbow on their patio.”

Although Polis didn’t give a firm date for this latest bar closure, he said it would go into effect within 48 hours of the June 30 press conference and last 30 days.

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