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Every SoCal County Except LA Has Reopened Bars and Wineries Despite Growing Pandemic

Bars will likely open in Los Angeles before the end of the month

Wine bottles, glasses, and plants on a shelf at a dimly lit wine bar.
A bar in Highland Park
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

Los Angeles County stands alone today, the solitary holdout against reopening bars, wineries, and breweries that do not also serve food. For Orange County, Ventura County, Santa Barbara County, Kern County, Riverside County, San Bernardino County, and even San Diego County, bars are back.

The broad reopening is a first step into California governor Gavin Newsom’s phase three, part of a multi-tiered plan that also allows gyms, television and film production, museums, and other businesses to reopen. Phase two involved the reopening of restaurant dining rooms, which happened in LA on Friday, May 29; phase four will focus on the return of large-scale events like concerts and live sports with spectators, and may not occur until 2021.

Newsom has repeatedly said that, even though state-level reopening plans may come from his office, the ultimate decision on which businesses can once again serve customers (as well as the details on precisely how and when) will remain up to local officials. For every county that rings LA and beyond, that means a structured reopening today of places that sell alcohol for on-site consumption, albeit with modifications that may include everything from social distancing to contactless payments to face masks — though Orange County specifically withdrew a mandate for mouth coverings this week after considerable local protest.

In LA, things are moving just a tiny bit more slowly, though bar reopenings are likely to come before the end of the month. With ten million inhabitants Los Angeles is the most populous county not just in California but in all of America, and has become the center of the state’s coronavirus concerns; there are dozens of new deaths daily, and thousands of new positive tests. Newsom and others have said that they are comfortable with continued reopening plans despite the growing COVID-19 cases, and that there are currently no plans to pull back on reopening efforts anywhere in the state.

Meanwhile, some places like LA Ale Works in Hawthorne have reopened because they partnered with a food vendor to sell meals in addition to the beer, something the state’s liquor board approved last month. Restaurants with bars inside have also been allowed to sell to-go cocktails for months now, which was approved by the county as a way for struggling restaurants to continue to earn money during the pandemic and associated lockdown.

Even as recently as April it seemed like the state would pause the return of bars for at least several more months, but reopening efforts have dramatically accelerated locally and nationally since mid-May as business owners and some workers demanded to be allowed to get back to making a living. Some 80 percent of the restaurant industry was unemployed as of last month in Los Angeles County. Still, not everyone is keen to reopen fully just yet, especially as a second wave of coronavirus deaths seems all but certain across the nation.