After months of state-mandated closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, Arizona’s bars are beginning to reopen. As of Thursday, Sept. 10, 12 out of Arizona’s 15 counties reported “moderate” or “minimal” COVID-19 spread, meaning bars that serve food can open in those counties.
The gradual reopening comes after a flurry of applications from bar owners petitioning to open their businesses and supporters rallying outside the state Capitol chanting, “Open one, open all!”
Now, as long as they follow guidance from the Arizona Department of Health Services, bars that serve food — meaning they can essentially operate as restaurants — are approved to open.
Which Arizona bars can reopen?
The new allowance does not apply to all bars. Nightclubs, pool halls and bars that do not serve food may not welcome customers back inside at this time. And those that do serve food must pivot their business to run as a restaurant rather than a bar.
Also, Yuma, Graham and Gila counties remain in the “substantial transmission” category as of Sept. 10, so bars within those counties cannot reopen yet.
Why were some bars already open?
Ducey’s executive order in June stated businesses that hold a series 6 or 7 liquor license and that primarily sell alcohol, not food, must close. The Department of Liquor then clarified that businesses with combined licenses may stay open as long as the business’s primary purpose is other than selling alcohol.
For businesses that serve both food and alcohol but hold a bar license, such as sports bars and wine bars, owners could determine whether or not the order applies to their business.
A small number of Arizona bars were also allowed to reopen after submitting plans and applications to DHS.
Are bars open in Arizona?
Although Ducey declared bars with food may reopen as early as Thursday, Aug. 27, it may take some time before customers can pull up a seat inside. Some bars across the Valley have been completely shut down for months and it takes time to restock supplies and bring staff back to work.
Some bar owners, however, were preparing Wednesday in anticipation of a Thursday reopening. Mike Bates, owner of Bull Shooters bar and pool hall, had the tap lines cleaned and swapped out kegs that went out of date during the closure.
“I’m totally excited. We are ready to go,” Bates told The Arizona Republic on Wednesday.
What guidelines do bars have to follow?
In order to open, bars and nightclubs offering dine-in service must comply with the strict social distancing and sanitizing protocols laid out by DHS, a process that could add further delay to reopening.
The requirements, which are available online, include:
- Allowing 50% or less occupancy while operating as a restaurant.
- Prohibiting customers from choosing their own seats or moving seats. Customers should be brought to their seats by a staff member.
- Limiting parties to no more than 10.
- Prohibiting dancing, parlor games (such as pool and darts) and karaoke.
Bars and nightclubs that serve foodmust commit to implementing COVID-19 mitigation strategies and attest to their commitment to both the Department of Health Services and customers by publicly posting the attestation for examination.
What happens if a bar doesn’t follow guidelines?
People can report businesses that are not following rules by submitting a complaint at www.azhealth.gov/complianceCOVID19 or by calling 844-410-2157. Calls to the hotline will be answered by a person.
Complaints will be investigated by either DHS or county health officials, The Arizona Republic reported. Businesses also could face enforcement from the state liquor board.
Christ said DHS will try to educate businesses on the rules if they have minor violations, but may take more serious action when needed.
“We can turn it over to law enforcement if we wanted it to be a citation,” she said. “Or we can file (through the courts) for a restraining order to shut them down.”
Since the Aug. 27 reopening, multiple metro Phoenix bars have been shut down for failing to follow guidelines.
Will bars in Old Town Scottsdale reopen?
In a press conference on May 25, Ducey called eight Scottsdale bars “bad actors.” The public scolding came after videos from Memorial Day weekend made their way around social media, showing crowds of unmasked people in Old Town Scottsdale partying and not practicing social distancing.
Eight bars and nightclubs, all located in Old Town, were sent notices to comply with social distancing and mask requirements: Riot House, Bottled Blonde, Pattie’s, Casa Amigos, El Hefe, International, Maya Day & Nightclub and Hi-Fi. One club, Riot House, was charged with a misdemeanor.
Riot Hospitality Group confirmed Thursday that their Old Town bars, which include El Hefe and Riot House, will remain closed for the time being.
“Looking like another week or two. They want to ease into it and make sure its done correctly,” wrote Robyn Moore Patterson, a spokesperson for Riot Hospitality Group.
Evening Entertainment Group’s nightclub and restaurant Casa Amigos was shut down days after opening. Skylanes, the bowling alley located upstairs, also appeared to be included in the closure.
Republic reporter Ryan Randazzo contributed to this article.
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