Los Angeles area bars are on the cusp of reopening as the region’s coronavirus cases continue to plummet, likely pushing the nation’s most populous county into the less restrictive orange reopening tier by early April, if not sooner. Should such a move be approved by state and local public health officials, as is expected, many bars that do not serve food would be allowed to serve customers outdoors (at limited capacity) for the first time in over a year.
While the entire hospitality sector has been devastated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, few places have been harder-hit economically than local, independent cocktail spots. Throughout the past year, bars that operate dually as restaurants (say like dive-y beach hang Hinano Cafe, which has a griddle behind the bar for burgers, or the bar inside of Hippo in Highland Park) have been allowed to sell food in conjunction with drinks, and even to offer to-go and delivery-only cocktails. Distilleries, breweries, and wineries have been lumped into a similar category for much of the past year, offering takeout service and the ability to seat people outdoors, so long as those businesses have partnered with a licensed food vendor.
For LA’s many local dive bars, reopening for any kind of service in the past 12 months has been little more than a distant dream — until now. Once LA County (and surrounding counties) move from the red tier to the orange tier formally — after getting approval from state officials to do so — on-site drinking without food will once again be possible at dive bars, corner hangouts, and upscale cocktail-only spots from Santa Clarita to Palos Verdes.
Now, when that will precisely happen is still up for debate. Currently the county’s data thresholds for moving into a less-restrictive tier are trending in the right direction, but in order to gain state approval the county’s numbers will need to hold for two consecutive weeks. What’s more, local officials like the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the Board of Supervisors will need to approve any changes to their own public health order, and in the past the county has not been shy about acting more slowly and more cautiously than the state allows.
County officials have also not formalized a full slate of pandemic modification requirements for bars to reopen, as they’ve recently done for wineries, distilleries, and breweries that do not serve food. Those businesses are currently allowed to offer reservation-only well-distanced tables, in a limited time window, and without TVs on. Details like those will matter greatly to bar owners and workers as they begin to plot a comeback more than a year in the making. So far all that’s confirmed is that seating will be outdoors only, which could still prove challenging for small-footprint businesses with no previously existing outdoors space.
Regardless, the reopening of many of LA’s vital bars is good news for workers, owners, and local supports who have gone at least year without some of their favorite watering holes — to say nothing of the staggeringly low case counts and increased vaccinations happening countywide as compared to just months ago. And while many of these small businesses continue to struggle to pay bills, with more than a few turning to online fundraising platforms, there does seem to be some promise for a brighter future for those that will reopen, likely in just a couple of weeks.