As states open up and some people return to life as usual, others will be staying home and isolated. USA TODAY
The state said Vermont bars and restaurants could reopen their inside seating on Monday, June 8. The Last Stop Sports Bar was among the first indoor stops patrons could make.
In this era of COVID-19, inside seating is still far from business as usual. Capacity for now is set at 25 percent, including staff. Tables need to be at least six feet apart, and customers cannot roam from point to point as they normally might at a bar. Face masks are encouraged, and at the Last Stop Sports Bar, protective gloves and hand sanitizer are available for customers who want them.
Even with restrictions, Last Stop owner Shayla Ruland was quick to restart. Her reasons are simple.
“This is my only job. We haven’t made any money in three months,” Ruland said as she sat inside her Winooski bar less than an hour before reopening at 4 p.m. Monday. “We kind of feel like three months for our businesses, it was a long time to be closed. We wanted to reopen.”
Many Vermont bars and restaurants reopened their indoor spaces Monday or in the ensuing days. Others who see little benefit in restarting to only a quarter of capacity are waiting it out, hoping to hold on until the allowed capacity increases.
Restaurants get dining rooms back in action
In Williston, McGillicuddy’s Irish Ale House, with a pub-like atmosphere inside and minimal seating space outside, also reopened at 25-percent capacity Monday. “Freshly painted, reupholstered booths. Place looks like new,” McGillicuddy’s announced Monday morning on Facebook.
Across town from McGillicuddy’s, Chef’s Corner announced it was back for inside dining Wednesday. The breakfast-and-lunch spot’s announcement Tuesday on Facebook listed a litany of changes to how inside dining works for now.
“First, we ask that you call for a reservation before standing in line,” the announcement reads. “We do not want to have crowds of people trying to make reservations when they get there. Second, we ask that customers wait to get in line until your whole party is with you. We are limiting customers to 1 hour dine in slots and it would be best if everyone ordered together because of this. Lastly, we ask that customers who want to take out to please call in their order and pay over the phone.”
Bangkok Bistro, Papa Nick’s decide to wait
Not all bars and restaurants in Vermont are ready to dip that tentative toe back in the water.
“We’ve decided to hold off for now until we can get a higher number” for capacity, said Bobby Chompupong, owner of Bangkok Bistro in the Alley in Burlington. “I’m in no rush.”
He said Bangkok Bistro has a roomy outdoor patio that is doing well as the weather has improved. He normally has eight or nine tables on the patio, and even with social distancing can still fit a similar number outside with up to four customers per table. He said takeout business has also been good.
Inside, however, Chompupong said the 25-percent capacity limit means he could fit exactly 12 ½ customers in the dining room, creating a quiet atmosphere not conducive to a memorable experience.
“You’re got to look at it in the big picture,” Chompupong said. “In the end game, do we just want to rush people in and start booming up business, or do we want to end this (pandemic) as quickly as possible? You have to find that middle ground.”
Papa Nick’s Restaurant & Pizza in Hinesburg is making takeout meals and opened its creemee window, but owner Voula Zontanos isn’t lured by the 25-percent-capacity requirement for indoor dining, which would limit Papa Nick’s dining room to a smattering of customers.
“I think it’s not enough,” she said. “Including us working here and serving the people, how many tables? Maybe four (tables), 15 people.”
The restaurant that serves lunch and dinner daily but temporarily ended its breakfast option when the pandemic began is holding off on indoor dining until the capacity percentage climbs another notch.
“I think I’m going to wait until it’s going to be 50 percent,” Zontanos said.
Kitty Kitty misses customers in Winooski
The Last Stop Sports Bar couldn’t wait. Ruland didn’t open the outdoor patio until Monday, either, figuring with Vermont’s fickle weather it was too risky to hang her hat on that alone. Now both are open, and she can fit 20 people outside and 24 inside.
“I’m hoping it will help,” Ruland said. “Having some people in here will be better than none.” She needs something to help pay for electricity, insurance and rent.
“That’s my main goal,” she said, “to get some of my bills paid off.”
The normally convivial bar, however, will be different. Red “danger” tape keeps patrons from sitting at the bar itself. Tables are placed so far from each other even long-distance mingling will be a challenge.
Ruland won’t be the only one happy to see customers return. The Last Stop Sports Bar’s skittish resident cat, Kitty Kitty, who likes to peer at patrons through the kitty door leading up from the basement, has stayed alone at the bar for three months, with Ruland stopping by daily to check in and feed her.
“She’s been missing people for sure,” Ruland said.
Ruland and Kitty Kitty will enjoy seeing customers again, and from what Ruland can tell, customers will be happy to see them, too. Some bought gift cards or hats emblazoned with the Last Stop logo during the bar’s hiatus, just to help keep it going. Ruland said she received about 20 text messages Monday from customers saying they can’t wait to come back.
What Ruland doesn’t know is just how many potential patrons will be leery of coming back inside, especially in Winooski, a small city affected by a recent resurgence in COVID-19 cases.
“I honestly don’t know” how many will be reluctant to return, Ruland said. “The people I talked to are raring to go.”
Contact Brent Hallenbeck at (802) 660-1844 or email@example.com. Follow Brent on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BrentHallenbeck.
This coverage is only possible with support from our readers. Sign up today for a subscription to the Burlington Free Press.
Read or Share this story: https://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/life/2020/06/10/vermont-restaurants-bars-indoor-seating-coronavirus/5322474002/